Thursday, December 17, 2015

The Gift of Beer

Hops Challenge - Dec 16

Andy Adamo and Sante Fratarcangeli play each other regularly. Most of the time it’s later at night, with few - if any - people watching, and I’m sure many times they are monumental encounters that go 5 games, with no doubt a few drinks on the line. This time it was more than a few drinks - it was a full keg, and it would be in front of a crowd. Loser pays for the keg, winner basks in the glory. We’ll get to the challenge shortly...

Lead-up matches to the grand finale were plentiful and rigorous. The other 30 players were split up onto one of two teams, one headed by Sante, the other Andy. It made no difference which team won the night, none of the players would have to be signing any chits for the keg, but pride was on the line and losing still hurts.

Paul Ward and Eric Green. Looking fresh-'ish' after just 1 game.
Strangely, only 2 of the matches were stretched into 5 games. Eric Green won the Club Championships this year in the 5.0 and his celebratory tour must have recently just finished as I don’t think he has been on a singles court since. Needless to say, his fitness may end up playing a part and playing Paul Ward - who does rather enjoy chasing the squash ball for extensive periods of time - may prove to be a painful mission. Eric wasted no time chopping the ball around in the first game and took it in quick time, probably proving to be a saving grace for later in the match. Paul definitely picked up his game from there on and as the two players exited the court after each game the breathing became more strained, hair more unkempt, and the next beer still too far away. The 5th wouldn’t be the nail biter we were hoping for, Eric found the extra wisps of fumes to push himself to victory 11-5. He’ll now be suffering through the muscle soreness for days and eventually he’ll stop sweating.

The other 5-settter took place upstairs so unfortunately few people could behold its epicness. Colin Bayer and Mike Petix no doubt scrambled around the court like a couple of blowflies in a tripe shop, with 4 of their 5 games going to overtime, including the 5th which ended up 12-10 in Colin’s favor. Both players commended each other and how much they enjoyed the encounter, and just like Eric, Colin is probably still sweating.

John Mann And JC. Guess who won?
Seven other matches went to 4, but it was one of the 3-0 results that attracted a little more interest. When John Mann registered for this event, he insisted I match him up against JC Tibbitts. Brave move I thought, as on current form JC would clearly be the favorite. But, looking up last year’s Hops Challenge, John actually beat JC in 5, and evidently he wanted to demonstrate that he could still do so. John put his money where is mouth is. And, he stepped up big time. He took JC 3-0 to everybody’s surprise but his own, JC almost held speechless but managing to acknowledge that he was beaten by a better player on the day, and that John has never played so well in his life before. Timing, JC, timing.

The awaited showdown was upon us, Sante wearing a conservative ensemble by his standards, even with his bright green glow in the dark shoes and socks, Andy simply taking it all in stride, not showing any signs of pressure or tension whatsoever. Has he ever frowned? One of life’s great mysteries that we may never discover the answer. 

The first game did not take very long as Sante scooted out to a 7-1 lead, taking the ball early and hard with low, quick length which did not let Andy get settled. The huge lead would not be eaten into and Sante cleaned it up 11-4.

For the second game, it was clear that Andy wasn’t going to be able to keep up with Sante’s pace, so he concentrated more on the length and he straightened up his shots well. Suddenly Sante couldn’t hold the front position on the ‘t’ as dominantly and found himself digging out of the back corners with discomfort. It was a complete turnaround of the first game as Andy was the one to establish the big lead and not let it go. Andy - 11-3.

For the next two games, it appeared to me as if the players lost their way a little. I’m not selling them short by any means, the rallies were lengthy and both players exerted themselves to the brink of exhaustion, but rails and crosscourts were not as consistent, overhitting was creeping in, signs of panic were peeking through. Thankfully, Sante and Andy played a very clean game - few lets were called, interference was played around, rallies were ended on either some wonderful winners or some inopportune errors rather than referee calls. After the third game which Sante squeaked it out 11-9, I did predict it would get to a 5th as Andy looked worse for wear with his fitness eyeing the oxygen tank the same way most of our members eye the keg - wide and begging.

Andy almost proved me wrong, however. He kept up with Sante - who was also huffing and puffing but he was also sniffing the finish line so he wasn’t about to let his foot off the gas - but the pressure finally pushed Andy to crack late in the game and his beleaguered movement became more pronounced. Sante smelled blood and took the inevitable victory with an 11-8 fourth.
Andy and Sante enjoying Andy's keg...!

Andy was left with the beer chit, but in consolation his team did win the night 10 matches to 6. Not that it saves his member account anything! A great event, finishing with a great encounter, and it looked like it was going to be a late night since when I left shortly before 8pm, the large group of people still in the court area seemed to be just warning up!

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