By John Bombatch
BEAVERCREEK — Host Beavercreek needed plenty of depth to muster a 3-2 boys varsity tennis win over Vandalia Butler on Wednesday, and the entire match came down to the heroics of a first-year player, Daniel Rodriguez.
“Daniel’s only been working out with us for about eight months now, and there’s nobody I’d rather have in a crucial situation like that than him,” said Beavercreek coach Eric Cusick.
Rodriguez initially played football and basketball for the Beavers, but a total of four concussions in a two-year span abruptly put an end to those playing careers. His coach says Rodriguez’s big-game experience has helped him on the tennis court.
Earlier this year in a nonleague match with Liberty Township Lakota East, Rodriguez was down 6-1, 5-1 and players and fans for both teams were packing up their equipment and lawn chairs and getting ready to leave. But Rodriguez battled back to win the match.
On Wednesday, he rallied to defeat Butler’s Troy Luken 5-7, 6-0, 6-3 to clinch the team win for the Beavers (9-4).
“To be honest with you, I didn’t know that my match was the deciding match. Coach wouldn’t tell me,” Rodriguez said. “But it does help to look over and see Austin (Chong) over there battling in his first singles match. But once he was off, I didn’t really know that he had lost, and I didn’t know what the team score was at the time. After he left, I just went into kind of a mental thing where I knew I had to win my match. I really stayed focused today, and it was a tough match.”
Butler’s Denish Patel frustrated Gavin Enderson with a wave of high lobs and off-speed shots to win at second singles by a 6-1, 6-3 score. And in perhaps the most competitive singles match of the day, Butler’s Morgan Jackson rallied from a one-set deficit to defeat Austin Chong 1-6, 6-4, 6-4 at first singles.
Jackson, coach Larry Jackson’s daughter and the only female on the courts Wednesday, used a solid serve and heavy baseline play to get the harder hitting Chong to hit into several unforced errors. Coach Jackson had Morgan attack any Chong short hits, to make the Beavercreek player come to the net. By doing that, the Butler senior was able to earn some quick volley points and throw Chong off his strong baseline attack.
Even still, Chong fought off one match point to pull the third set to 5-3 in Jackson’s favor. Chong then broke Jackson’s serve to pull within 5-4. But after playing to a deuce score five times on Chong’s serve, Jackson induced Chong into a backhand shot into the net to claim the win.
Larry Jackson admitted that his 11-time defending Greater Western Ohio Conference North champion Aviators (4-7) may be down this season, but he remains encouraged.
“We lost a lot of players to graduation, but our singles have been playing well — Morgan (Jackson) is having a solid year, and Denish (Patel) has really improved a lot. And Troy’s doing a nice job at third singles for us, too. The kids are listening, they’re learning, and I’m seeing improvement,” Jackson said. “… My doubles teams haven’t won a set yet, but I see them getting better each time they take the court. That winless streak will end sometime soon.”
Beavercreek’s doubles teams both won in straight sets.
Matt Ha and Vinodh Enukonda defeated Jones Kanak and Levi Shidecker 6-0, 6-0; and the Beavers’ Curtis Guthrie-Hayden Clark duo defeated Trevor Pisek and Ross Fike 6-1, 6-3.
Enukonda and Guthrie stepped in for Beavercreek players who were absent from school on Wednesday. Chong was at first singles in place of Beavercreek’s usual first singles player, Brandon Chong, who also missed school.