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Bluffton ends Bulldogs' perfect record and season

Posted: May 12, 2011 11:50 a.m.
Updated: May 13, 2011 5:00 a.m.

Why did Tuesday have to be the fifth time?

Saying that, all things being equal, his Camden High tennis team should be able to beat Bluffton "four out of five times", Bulldog head coach Roger Smoak saw his team come out on the short end of the stick for the first time in 20 matches this season with a 4-2 loss to the host Bobcats in Tuesday’s second round state class AAA tournament pairing.

"It hurts when you lose to a team that you know you can beat," Smoak said. "I would love to play (Bluffton) again. We would probably beat them four out of five times. (Tuesday), they were the better team.

"We just ran out of steam. Our lack of experience and depth showed up in this match."

The Bulldogs (19-1) received wins from junior Jo Jo Tiller and senior Micah Thomas at first and third singles, respectively, to trim the deficit to 3-2 with Davis Goodrich and Aaron Newland remaining on the court for their fifth singles contest.

Goodrich won the first set, 7-5, before Newland evened things by winning the second, 7-6, with a 7-4 tie-breaker, to force a third-set tie-breaker. Goodrich had match point on two different opportunities, leading 7-4 and 9-7, only to see his Bobcat opponent battle back to take the set and the match, 11-9.

The fifth singles finale lasted more than two hours on a hot and humid afternoon which took its toll on the Dogs. Goodrich battled through hand cramps in his match.

"Davis poured his heart out there on the court for us. It seemed like he was out there all day," Smoak said.

Had this match gone to first doubles, both Smoak and BHS head coach Bob Brown felt that with Tiller back on the court, the Dogs would have held the upper hand.

"I was hoping that we could get the match into first doubles because I thought we would have won there," Smoak said. "Their coach told me that, too."

Tiller needed less than 45 minutes to hand Spencer Sasko a pair of 6-0 losses in remaining perfect on the season.

"Jo Jo just played another unbelievably good match," Smoak said of Tiller’s dominating performance. "Jo Jo really plays well in big matches and knows how to win the big points."

BHS answered with Chris Davis stopping Roderick Todd at second singles, 6-2, 6-4. The hosts received a 6-4, 6-4 victory from Diego Garcia and Zack Rardon over Bryan Williams and Ben Goodrich at second doubles to go on top, 2-1. The Bobcats took a 3-1 advantage when Davis Rosenblum outlasted Nelson Semple in fourth singles, winning 5-7 6-3, 10-7.

Camden closed the gap to one match when Thomas, who was battling weather-related cramps, came through with a 6-2, 6-3 victory over Richard Snyder at third singles. From there, all eyes were on the fifth singles match.

"Micah was cramping up pretty bad. He just gutted it out until the end of the match," Smoak said of Thomas’ performance.

Smoak said Bluffton was a much-improved team from the one which the Dogs ran over, 6-0, in last year’s tourney opener. The three starters whom the Bobcats returned in singles all lost their spots to newcomers while the experienced second doubles team returned intact from a season ago.

Smoak said that, maybe, some of his players may have been looking past Bluffton after last year’s rout and could have been looking ahead to a rematch with defending state champion Chapin. That never materialized.

"I told our kids before this match that we had to play our best to beat Bluffton," Smoak said. "You can’t afford to look past anybody, especially when you have to go on the road and play in tough conditions against an experienced team like they have."

Smoak said he could not be any prouder of a team which overcame adversity all season, including losing Todd and Thomas deLoach for long stretches of time due to injury. In the end, Smoak said, Todd could have probably used a few more matches under his belt in order to be at full-speed for the playoffs. The sophomore played in the first and final regular season match, due to a knee injury, before returning to the lineup. The time off, his coach said, caught up with Todd on Tuesday.

Smoak chalked the loss up to being "just one of those days where we would have been better off had we stayed in bed."

But the state’s all-time winningest tennis coach added that a setback like this would make his team more determined when they begin practice for the 2012 campaign.

"We can get bitter or we can get better," he said. "This was a bitter pill for us to swallow. But in the long run, it should make us better. We have some tough-minded players on this team who will learn a lot from this loss. It should make us a better team next year.

"We finished up at 19-1, which is about as good as you can get. After a while, we’ll look back on this season and realize how far we came as a team and our kids will realize what a great, great season they had."

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