Monday, October 12, 2015

TOM MAC-BLITZ-ERN



Blitz Tournament October 9, 2015

The first squash event in our sparkly new court center had 23 participants vying for the Blitz Tournament honors. It’s one of my favorite formats since it gives the underdog, not only an opportunity to step on court with many stronger players, but a decent chance to beat them as well. The handicapping does place that added pressure on to the higher ranked player, especially when the lower ranked player is only a couple of points away from victory and they try that much harder. All it takes is one unforced error... a lucky frame... or bounce... The exciting part is watching the points unfold, desperation at its finest, the crowd cheering all the way for the underdog!

Haytham Hermiz and Mark Montgomery
With groups of 6, winning 4 of the 5 matches would guarantee advancing to the knock-out rounds. Nobody won all 5. In group 1, Sante Fratarcangeli redeemed himself from April’s event where he failed to get out of the group stage, by winning 4 matches, although he could have been left on the outside again had he not taken the final point against Mark Montgomery. If Mark had won their 15-14 score, he would have taken Sante’s spot in the next round. The same could be said for Cathy Lysack. Cathy also took 4 wins, one of them being a 15-14 nail-biter over Mark as well. In fact, at one point in their game, it was so intense that Cathy made Mark literally run out of his shoe! Mark won his other 3 games, but 3 wins wasn’t enough. Haytham Hermiz took 3 wins as well - the cause of Sante’s one loss - but he also won a match 15-1... again, the beauty of the Blitz is that games can also end up on the opposite side of the spectrum.

There were two 4 match winners in group 2 as well. Peter Birgbauer squeaked through, two of his matches went to the sudden death 14-all play-off point, with a mixed result. The win was against the other 4 match winner of the group - Jon Dengel, the loss was to Colin Bayer. Colin ended up with 3 wins, he’ll be ruing the 15-13 loss to Maggie Durant, a tough match-up where he only had to give 3 points handicap, the one that got away could have placed him the next round.

Jon Dengel and Peter Birgbauer
Group 3 ended up being the first group to have 2 players draw straws to see who could advance to the finals. Tom MacEachern was not one of them. He won the group with 4 wins, his one loss was at the hands of Matt Hayduk 13-15, Matt started off with 9 points. A couple of new faces to the DAC squash family were present here. Colin Bayer’s brother Chas (a sibling rivalry brewing to say the least!) and Russell Rhea. Both held their own very well although neither of them advanced, Russell did pick up a 15-14 victory over Matt Hayduk, and Chas took down Russell and Josh Slominski. The drawing of the straws maybe a little controversial (!) but rather than have a ‘play-off’ or see who beat who, this method gives everyone an equal chance to win, regardless of your playing level. “May the odds be forever in your favor...” (Hunger Games) Josh and Matt were tied with 3 wins each, both of these guys have actually won the Blitz Tournament in the past... and it was Josh pulling out the straw of victory!

An even closer group 4, we also had to leave it to the Squash Gods to see who would be able to compete in the knock-out round. This time, 3 players would be contending for the 1 play-off spot. Ian Edwards did not have to worry about that, he won 4 of 5 games to take top billing in the group, taking care of business rather comfortably and not having to stress over the straws. There was only one 15-14 result in this group, Paul Fershee’s magnificent effort over Dane Fossee. Most memorable, and You Tube worthy, was Paul’s sprint into the back forehand corner, no-look-no-recovery-over-the-shoulder-forehand-boast for a winner that left Dane stunned, the crowd agape, and Paul utterly clueless to what just happened. The dark horse of the group was Paul Gormley. After pleading mercy for friendly handicaps, I completely ignored that, and instead decided that crucifying him in his match-ups would be more beneficial for his squash! Paul stepped up to the plate. He took 3 wins and put himself into contention to advance with 2 others - Dane Fossee and JC Tibbitts. Paul’s reward for his efforts was noticed by the higher powers and he drew the correct straw to move on.

And his fortune didn’t end there. Taking a 12 point head start into his quarter-final against Cathy Lysack, Paul nervously and sporadically made his way to 14. A true gentleman, though, he allowed Cathy to also reach 14 before closing her out to take the victory, no one more surprised than Paul himself. Another 15-14 result in the quarter-final had Sante a little shaky over Jon Dengel. Jon made Sante a little edgy, this could very easily could have fallen Jon’s way. But in true Sante fashion, he overcame the pressure and pushed through.

Tom MacEachern also advanced to the semifinal with a 15-7 win against Peter Birbauer. Tom took a 6 point lead into the game, but never let Peter get settled. He jumped on the accelerator early, pressured Peter with his short game and in the end showed the handicap wasn’t necessary on this occasion. Ian Edwards mirrored Tom’s effort in his match with Josh Slominski. Ian had a 7 point head start, and Josh looked a little tentative giving up so much. A few timid shots, twitchy swings, and the 7 points turned into 11 quickly. Ian didn’t let Josh get any momentum back and took the game 15-7.

The big boys proved themselves in the semifinals. Tom stepped on with Paul Gormley 12 points in the hole and took no chances. Just don’t make a mistake. Hit solidly. And he did. One error only, the rest was clockwork. It was the way a stronger player should perform against the underdog. Tom moved onto the final 15-13.

Sante Fratarcangeli and Tom MacEachern
Sante repeated the same tactic with Ian. The 9 point handicap did not phase the 2-time Blitz Tournament champion, and Sante took care of business. Ian is a hustler, and he still made Sante work harder than he wanted to for the victory, but the 15-11 score in the end was rather emphatic.

To me, the final was the most interesting of all the matches of the evening. Tom walked on with a 4 point handicap. To be honest, I was debating with myself to make the handicap 6 or 7, but Tom was playing well so I went against my gut feeling. Normally that’s a bad idea, but it turned out just right. The game started off as I expected - good rallies with Sante winning roughly 2 out of every 3. He caught Tom half way through the game at 7-7, and that’s when I was kicking myself thinking I should have gone with my original handicap. But then it turned around. Tom stepped it up and took the game to Sante. The extra pressure seemed to blow the wind out of Sante’s sails, and try as he might, Sante could not regain the dominance. Tom would take his first Blitz Tournament title, winning the final 15-13.

Ian Edwards and Paul Gormley
In the 3rd and 4th play-off, Paul started off with 11 points over Ian and this time would not let this one slip away. A great effort by Paul, he took the game 15-12, earned himself a spot on the podium!

What a thrilling way to end the evening. Thank you to all who participated, for sticking around, abusing the keg, and supporting the finalists. Hopefully we’ll see many more of you in these tournaments throughout the season.

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