By BRETT MARSHALL
The Garden City High School boys tennis team opened its 2012 season on March 31 at Great Bend by finishing second in the team standings and having its two singles players and two doubles teams finish as runners-up after losses to Great Bend.
So when coach Rod Robinson and his Buffs loaded up in the school van and left the parking lot in Great Bend that day, his team made a vow that the next time around things would be better against the Panthers.
The Buffs made good on that vow on Saturday at their own invitational at Grimsley/Harmon Tennis Complex, with their two doubles teams — the No. 1 team of Brian Clarke and Evan Riggs and the No. 2 team of brothers Denton and Brennan Keller — capturing first-place finishes with wins over their WAC rivals.
But it still wasn't enough to overcome the singles performances by the Panthers, and the result was a 29-27 victory for the Panthers over the Buffs in the team race.
"I thought our doubles teams played as well as they've played all year," Robinson said. "They kind of got it handed to them in Great Bend, and they really picked it up today. They've been looking forward to Great Bend since we pulled out of the lot (in Great Bend)."
It was sweet for both doubles teams to pick up wins against their league rivals, but perhaps even more so for Clarke and Riggs, who had been blanked 8-0 by the Panthers' Nick Moyers and Chase Buntin back on March 31.
Following that lopsided win, according to both Robinson and Clark, one of the Great Bend players posted a Twitter comment about the Buffs.
Bulletin board material, according to Robinson.
"I think the boys were fired up to show that they could play with Great Bend," Robinson said.
The win by Clarke and Riggs, both juniors, didn't come easily.
They lost the first set in the championship match, 7-5, before regrouping to dominate the second set, winning 6-1. That put the match into a super-tiebreaker, where the first team to 10 points is the winner.
In a see-saw battle, the Buffs trailed early 4-2 before taking a 7-5 lead. Three straight points by the Panthers put them up 8-7. Then, in the pivotal final points, the Buffs won the eighth and ninth points off Clarke's service and then broke the Panthers on the final point, winning 10-8.
"We just refused to give up," Clarke said of their play. "They kicked us and stuck it to us at Great Bend. I think when we beat them 6-1, they just wanted to get to the tiebreaker, but we had the momentum. A lot of it is just heart. You've got to hit out and push through the wall."
Riggs admitted that he and his partner had been eyeing this match for the past three weeks.
"We've been wanting this since we got beat," Riggs said. "They got in our heads, but we know we're as good or better than them. We just had to go out and play like it. It's one of our biggest wins, and it's nice to get this at home. We had a nice turnout of support from the fans."
For the Keller brothers — senior Brennan and junior Denton — the 6-4, 6-4 straight set victory avenged an 8-5 loss to Great Bend's Adam Neeland and Ramon Garcia.
In both sets, the Kellers were knotted at four games with the Panthers' duo before winning the final two games to close out the match. In the first set, Brennan served in the winning game while Denton duplicated the feat in the second set.
"When we lost to them in Great Bend, we got off to a bad start," Brennan said. "It's a great feeling to beat a team you've lost to. I think being in some close matches recently helped us when the sets were tied. We're communicating better, and I think at the end we were able to overmatch them."
For Denton, playing with his older brother for the second consecutive season has become a bonus as Brennan heads into the final weeks of his senior campaign.
"I think we were nervous in that first tournament, and we just told ourselves to go out and hit the ball and don't be afraid," Denton said. "It's been fun to play with Brennan. I think we have higher expectations this year. We've gotten better, and I think we know we can play with other teams. We're a lot more comfortable with each other on the court."
On the singles side of the competition, freshman Sebastian Kyaw went 3-1 in No. 2 singles to win the back side of the bracket and improve his season record to 8-5 in his first year of competing. Senior Blake Stucky had the toughest day, going 2-2 in No. 1 singles and finishing fourth, leaving his season mark at 9-8.
"Anytime you're the No. 1 singles player, you're going against the best players from the other teams," Robinson said. "I know Blake's disappointed, but he played well at times. Sebastian is doing a good job for his first time competing. He's only going to get better."
The 3-0 records for the two doubles teams allowed Clark and Riggs to improve to 9-3 while the Kellers now own a 12-4 season record.
The team was on the road today at the Topeka Invitational and then will be at the Hutchinson Invitational on Wednesday and Goddard Invitational on Thursday to complete a busy week.
See results in Scoreboard, Page B2.