By BRETT MARSHALL
It seems as though every time the Garden City Buffaloes boys' tennis team meets up with Great Bend, it is the Buffs that are doing the chasing while the Panthers try to stay atop their Western Athletic Conference rivaly.
Saturday at the Buffs' Invitational at the GCHS courts, it was still much the same — the Buffs were the chaser and the Panthers were the chasee.
In three championship head-to-head matches — No. 1 and 2 singles and No. 1 doubles — Great Bend somehow managed to produce victories.
Two of those went to the 7-point tiebreaker, and despite the fact that at some point in the 8-game set or in the tiebreaker, No. 1 singles player Brian Clarke and No. 1 doubles team Evan Riggs and Denton Keller led, they still came up short.
"We've got to find a way to get over the Great Bend hump," a disappointed GCHS head coach Rod Robinson said. "We had leads, we double-faulted in one and just couldn't come up with the big points at the critical times. We knew coming in Great Bend would be the team to beat."
The Panthers finished with 32 points to capture the team title while the Buffs were second with 23. Dodge City was third with 18 and Meade took fourth with 17 points. The 8-team field also included Hays (10), Liberal (9), Colby (8) and Scott City (3).
Riggs and Keller had lost to Great Bend's Chase Buntain and Austin Jacobs, 8-5, at the season-opening meet in Great Bend and on Saturday they narrowed the gap, losing a tough tiebreaker, 8-7 (7-2).
There was little consolation as the doubles team had led 7-5 in the 8-game set before losing to Great Bend's serve to make it 7-6. With Keller serving for the match, the Buffs lost the first three points, won two and then lost the next point to allow Great Bend to knot the score.
"I should've held serve," a dejected Keller said. "I've gotta work on that because it just takes away a lot of other good shots we make. I think, and so does Evan, that we can contend with them. Overall, I thought we played pretty good. It's just those little points that took the momentum away from us."
Riggs, who has been playing No. 1 doubles throughout his four-year career, said it was tough to see that match slip away.
"When we were up 7-5, I just thought we've gotta close this out," Riggs said. "Great Bend played good to get back in it, but we can't have that happen when we're in that position. I thought we played well for the most part, but just couldn't close it out. We've got to execute those kind of points, but we can get that fixed."
The pair had gone 3-0 in the earlier pool play, defeating Scott City's Luke Minnix and Dylan Hutchins (8-0), Meade's Micah Harder and Dalton Wiens (8-0) and Hays High's Andrew McGinnis and Bayron Rivera (8-0).
"I really felt like we were in a good position going into the finals," Robinson said of the multiple championship matches. "The kids played well early and got closer to Great Bend."
For Clarke, it was his first opportunity to take on Great Bend's No. 1, Nick Moyers. Clarke had missed the season opener due to a one-tournament suspension, so there was a lot of anticipation for Saturday's match.
In what seemed to be a roller-coaster battle, Clarke led early 3-1, getting a service break up against Moyers. Moyers then reeled off four straight games to go up 5-3 before Clarke came roaring back, eventually grabbing a 7-6 lead and was serving for the match. He couldn't hold, and then in the tiebreaker, again led early 4-2 before losing four straight points. He won the next, cutting Moyers' lead to 6-5 but then returned a Moyers' serve just out and the match was over.
"It stings a little bit," Clarke said. "It's harder when you're up 7-6 and on my own serve. I could've put it away early. There were lots of points where the momentum pendulum swung back and forth. I wished it had been a different outcome, but I just didn't have it at the end."
Clarke said he was looking forward to the WAC championship, which will be played on April 29 at Liberal.
"There will be another day and I know what I need to work on," Clarke said. "Overall, I thought it was a good day. I showed a lot of resilience when I was down. Next time, I'll try to do a better job at the end."
No. 2 singles player Sebastian Kyaw lost his championship match, 8-4, to Great Bend's Grant Harris after winning his three pool matches, all by identical 8-2 scores. In No. 2 doubles, sophomore Austin Greathouse subbed in for Dozie Ekweariri, who was competing in a history event at Topeka, and teamed with Brevin Irvin to finish third. They won the consolation match by an 8-5 margin against Dodge City's Robert Askew and Jacob Waldman.
The Buffs were originally scheduled to be competing today at the Topeka Invitational, but due to weather consideration the tournament has been pushed back to 9 a.m. on Wednesday.
Results in Scoreboard, Page B2.