March 30, 2015
Yesterday my North Shore League regular season that began in mid-September finally concluded, and the verdict was mixed. On the plus side, we qualified for the playoffs for the first time in several years despite significant internal problems, and we can be proud of that. On a less positive note, we enter the postseason as the fourth and lowest seed, meaning that all of our matches will be on the road and that our semifinal opponent will be top-ranked Winchester. At the halfway point of the season, our positions were reversed (we sat atop the table while they were in fourth), so although all four surviving teams are evenly matched, Winchester certainly comes into the playoffs riding more momentum than we do. The thing about the postseason, though, is all you really have to do is get there: after that, it’s a matter of who can play their best when it matters most. I always ask my high school teams before we begin our playoffs what our record is, and there are usually enough veterans that before long somebody gives the right answer: “zero and zero”. It doesn’t matter whether your team was 14-0, 8-6 or somewhere in between. You’re back to zero and zero again. Now I have to take my own teachings to heart and see if our Willows team can make a Cinderella run of its own.
Our final regular-season match was a makeup at Bass River of Beverly, which over the past few years has seen an infusion of talented players as several ex-Winchester teaching pros have found a new home there. Fortunately most of them play in the A league, but on any given day a few A players will sub in on the upper courts of the A-1. When Bass River came to our place, Chris got his only loss of the year, as Mike Lapierre- one of the best players in Eastern Mass- filled in one court one. But there’s a limit to how many matches you can play at a lower level, and Mike had now exceeded his quota, so Chris needn’t have worried. Bass River instead put two skilled but older players on court 1, and they were no match for Chris and Elias, who were both playing at the top of their game. I was back with Alan on court two and this week we faced a tough father and son team named Thayer and Trevor. Thayer was a little older than me and had a style very similar to my own, except he couldn’t really come over his backhand, which he hit one-handed. Trevor was probably in his early twenties and he had beautiful strokes, nice hands and excellent quickness around the court. Fortunately for us his first volley wasn’t quite at the same level as everyone else’s and although he had a fast serve, he tended to double fault at inopportune times. After I held serve on a deuce point we were able to break him to go up 2-0, but some nice lobs by Thayer mixed with drives from Trevor got them back on serve, and soon they were even at 2-2. The next four games followed the exact same pattern- we broke Trevor, but this time some abysmal net play on my part led to Alan dropping serve again, and before long we were in a 4-4 dogfight. Luckily the pattern that had been established continued once again, as I held serve and we were able to break Trevor for the set following a couple of double faults.
In the second set we built on our momentum as Alan began to serve more effectively and Trevor appeared to get frustrated and overhit a number of balls. All four guys had smooth strokes and could volley so that made for some entertaining points, but once again we were able to break Trevor in both his service games and take the second set by a more decisive 6-2 margin. I think we probably caught Trevor on an off day: with his strokes and a couple more years of experience he could be an A-league player. But a win’s a win and we’re certainly not going to give it back. Mark Garvin teamed with Justin for an easy win on three, and we needed it for the team result when we dropped winnable matches on four and five (Gary Barros had a miserable day on four, and we had Frank on five, so enough said there). Four, five, or six points in this match (or zero, for that matter)- it made no difference: we were going to come in fourth in the league regardless. But we got some match play in and stayed sharp for next week’s semifinal match against Winchester. It should be a great match and knowing our team and Winchester’s, there will probably be some fireworks somewhere. We’ll do our best and let the chips fall where they may. Stay tuned!