The Highland High School boys tennis team qualified three for this weekend’s IHSA Boys State Tennis Tournament.
Senior Zach Plocher placed third in the singles draw and the the Bulldogs’ No. 1 doubles team of senior Ryan Long and junior Brett Barker finished fourth in the doubles section at Saturday’s O’Fallon Sectional to punch their tickets.
It’s the most players HHS has sent to state since 2000.
“Its been 15 seasons since both a singles and a doubles team has qualified in the same tournament for us, which made this a special weekend,” said Highland coach Matt Pellock. “They all three had a great weekend and I am looking forward to all three guys getting a chance at state.”
Plocher said that after his freshman year he made it a goal for himself to qualify for state. He narrowly missed out last year.
“So, being able to qualify this year is absolutely amazing, since it was my last year and I get to see all my hard work pay off and get to say I accomplished my goals after four years,” Plocher said. “My performance at sectionals was much better then past years, because in past years, I was extremely nervous, and this year I was able to keep them in check and win my two matches to qualify pretty easily.”
Pellock said Plocher was a deserving No. 4 seed, and would move through his first two rounds to qualify for state, only dropping a few games total.
On Friday, Plocher scored a domineering 6-1, 6-1 win over Kenan Oestreich of Greenville and followed that up with a convincing 6-2, 6-0 victory over Jared Hatton of Mount Vernon.
“Both opponents kept Zach working points, but Zach looked strong throughout the matches and was in control throughout the day,” Pellock said.
Then on Saturday, Plocher played against Dominic Macaluso, O’Fallon’s No. 1 player and lost 4-6, 2-6, but he rallied back to beat Riley Muren, O’Fallon’s No. 2 player, 6-1 6-3 and finish third overall in sectional’s singles draw.
“Zach finishes with an outstanding 22 singles wins, an incredible accomplishment for Zach and our program,” Pellock said.
Plocher said he will always cherish this season.
“This season has been amazing, and one I will remember (it) forever after going 22-6 in singles and 15-1 in doubles with Jared Bargetzi. So overall, I had a record of 37-7 this season. It’s been a lot of fun to experience this season with my teammates and help our team win matches. My goals for the future are to play collegiate tennis and just keep improving my game.”
Long and Barker were the fifth seed in doubles and would have a tough route to get through their first two rounds. They drew a very tough Greenville team for their first-round match.
“Both Brett and Ryan played smart and showed good patience to work the point and set up opportunities to finish points at the net,” Pellock said. “Greenville does a nice job at keeping shots deep, and it takes some tough shots to them to get an error or easy ball to hit.”
Barker and Long would complete a straight-set win against the Comets team of Brannon/Schaufelberger by the scores of 6-4, 6-3.
Next, the Highland duo went up against Triad’s No. 2 doubles entry of Brendan Grigg and Ryan Froidcouer.
“This match was not lacking in drama, as far as major swings in momentum and runs of games from each team that made for quite a quarterfinal,” Pellock said.
Triad started the match with a 5-0 lead in the first set, forcing errors from Long and Barker as they did well coming into net to pressure HHS’ shots. At that point, Pellock said the mindset was to try to win a couple games to get a little confidence in the match.
Long was dominant at the net as the set would move on, and Barker kept forcing heavy returns and rallies to set up Long. They would incredibly turn the 0-5 deficit into a 7-6 first-set win. A great momentum boost to the second set would continue as we would get to a 5-3 lead, and a match point. A tough net shot on match point would again swing the energy back to Triad, and the Knights’ duo would string four games in a row to win the second set.
Then down 1-3 in the third, the Bulldogs won a couple close games to tie the set, and then both Long and Barker played a great final three games to finish off the 7-6, 5-7, 6-3 win.
“I’m proud of the way these two competed and especially happy for Ryan to see his best tennis in what could have been his final match,” Pellock said.
Barker and Long lost against a tough O’Fallon No. 1 team in their semifinal match.
They would finish fourth after a loss to Triads No. 1 doubles tandem of Caleb Fagan and Tanner Massa, but they still had a big weekend in qualifying for state.
Earlier in the week, Highland finished fourth out of six teams at the Mississippi Valley Conference Tournament.
Mascoutah won the tourney for the second straight season with 41 final team points. Triad was second with 36 points and they were followed by Waterloo (26), Highland (24), Jerseyville (12) and Civic Memorial (6).
“We had some nice individual results that included some upsets in the singles section,” Pellock said.
Highland’s No. 2 doubles pairing of Plocher and Jared Bargetzi had a great tournament and completed an even greater season by winning the No. 2 doubles flight.
The Bulldog duo started with a 6-4, 6-4 win over Triad, and then stomped the Mascoutah two doubles team, 6-0 6-1. They lost one match the whole year and it was a proud moment to see them end on such a high note, winning the conference at their doubles position.
Jacob Plocher and Bargetzi reached the finals at Nos. 4 and 5 singles, respectively to both come away with solid second-place singles medals.
Also for the Bulldogs, Zach Plocher defeated Grigg from Triad for a third time this season to take third place at the top singles spot, and Barker did well to finish in third place at No. 3 singles.