COLLEGE STATION — At the highest level of sports, the mental part of the game can be just as important as the physical aspect.
So Robinson’s Jacob Wingate preyed on any mental fragility he could find with his opponents at the Class 3A state tennis tournament Monday, and it worked perfectly.
In the semifinals, Wingate mixed up his shots to see if he could break Brownwood’s Mark Johnson after a spectacular shot broke the will of Dallas Madison’s Bradley Loftis in the quarterfinal match.
Those two wins propelled Wingate into the boys’ singles state championship match, where he will meet a familiar foe in College Station’s Nick Bradham. That match will be played at 9 a.m. at Texas A&M’s Mitchell Tennis Center.
The rest of the day didn’t go as planned for Central Texas, as all six of the other entries went down in the quarterfinals.
Other than Wingate, only Midway’s mixed doubles pair of Caroline Kutach and Matt Tyer, who competed in the 5A event at the Penick-Allison Tennis Center in Austin, and 1A Hubbard’s girls’ double tandem of Kate Saucke and Nakaila Banks claimed a set.
Wingate and Bradham met in the 3A Region III final two weeks ago, a contest won by Bradham, 6-4, 6-3.
“He is an extremely good player,” Wingate said. “He’s well-coached, really smart, doesn’t miss much, so when I play him I’m going to have to play my best tennis.”
Wingate saved his best for last against Johnson.
He was up a set and broke serve early in the second before giving the break back. But at 4-all, Wingate once again took Johnson’s service game and then put together one of his best of the day to close out the 7-5, 6-4 victory.
Robinson coach Jack Gregory said Wingate’s ability to finish showed his mental toughness.
“He was so focused on what he was doing to be able to come back and break him at the end of the match and serve for the match,” Gregory said. “I asked him where that last service game was the rest of the time because it was beyond good.”
Wingate’s probing style of play in the semifinals in which he sat back on the baseline and controlled points with his variety was in stark contrast to his game plan against Loftis, last year’s 3A runner-up.
Loftis couldn’t settle into rhythm, because Wingate was attacking at every opportunity and not giving his opponent any time.
He cruised through the first set, before having to hold on late in the second set. After Wingate held for 6-5, he hit the shot of the day on the first point of the final game.
Wingate stunned Loftis with a “tweener” lob that went for a winner, a shot in which he chased the ball down with his back to the net and hit the ball between his legs over Loftis’ head.
Loftis was so demoralized by the shot that he double faulted on the next point, then served underhanded on second serves the last two points, with Wingate putting them both away to take the match.
“I just was running back, and it was the start of the game,” Wingate said. “I thought I might as well try it. I had the opportunity to, and I just tried it. I was really surprised it actually went in, and the crowd went nuts. That was really good.”
Wingate is Robinson’s first state finalist since Tucker Mueck advanced to that round in boys’ singles in 2009, and he hopes to be the Rockets’ first state champion since Mueck and Daniel Traylor took home gold in boys’ doubles the year before.
“I know how hard Jacob’s worked,” Gregory said. “It’s been from sixth grade on. Back then he was watching Tucker and Daniel coming down here, and he had it in his mind that this was going to be his one day. He’s got a chance at it right now, and that’s what you work for.”
Things didn’t go as planned for Groesbeck’s girls’ doubles entry of Staci Nish and Hadley Heiner, nor its mixed doubles partnership of Caitlyn Harlan and Tyler Flatt.
Both teams got off to slow starts and could never recover.
Nish and Heiner found their footing in the second set and won a couple games in a row to pull back within 3-2, but that was their high mark in a 6-1, 6-2 loss to Frisco Lone Star’s Madelyn Howard and Liana Jo. Harlan and Flatt struggled throughout and took a 6-1, 6-0 defeat to Brittany Smyser and Max Tedvick of Abilene Wylie.
“I think with both matches, we didn’t get off to a great start,” Groesbeck coach Tyson Stewart said. “Once we finally got our legs, it was almost a little too late. Nothing against their opponents, we played really good teams. It’s hard to go from what we’re used to playing and come here, and there’s people everywhere, it’s a big stadium, you’re playing at A&M. We tried to get them accustomed to it, but it’s really hard to. It’s still nice to be here.”
A play that symbolized the Goats’ tough day was early in the second set, when Harlan hit a crosscourt backhand that appeared on its way to being a possible winner, but Flatt was moving back into position at the net and the ball hit him in the back of the head.
They were able to laugh about it after the fact, but both teams were clearly disappointed.
“We fought through the entire way, and the good thing is you can tell it really meant a lot to them,” Stewart said. “There were a few tears, but at least we weren’t just happy with getting here.”
Midway’s Tyer had a painful day in more ways than just the loss.
He took a shot below the waist at 2-all in the first set — “It was a net-on-net thing, and it caught everything,” Midway coach Troy Simonek said — and that caused his stomach to cramp for the remainder of that set and affected his serve. He dropped it twice, which turned out to be the difference in a close set, and didn’t lose serve the rest of the day.
Tyer and Kutach rebounded to win the second set, but couldn’t complete the comeback in a 7-5, 3-6, 6-2 loss to New Braunfels’ TJ Fumagalli and Will Drumwright.
“It was a great match. They were excited about the way they played, but they were upset about missed opportunities,” Simonek said. “There were a lot of opportunities on both sides in key situations, a lot of deuce games that went back and forth. That’s the one thing that’s a little tough to take. I’m pleased with all the effort it took to play at that level.”
Hubbard’s Banks and Saucke also battled back from a set down to Era’s Sofia Zavala and Kara Anderson. Neither team could hold serve down the stretch of the final set, until the final game when Zavala finally got the job done to complete a 6-3, 5-7, 7-5 girls’ doubles win.
The Hubbard boys’ doubles team of Casen Martin and Logan McClinton fell to Mason’s Price Ruffin and Coby Velez, 6-2, 6-2, while Kopperl’s mix doubles squad of Lindsey Williams and Dylan Hall went down to Quenten Mathes and Hadley McIvor or Fort Davis, 6-3, 6-1.