La PORTE — Prior to Saturday, Alex Ake had never played singles at the varsity level.
He wasn't fazed by the pressure of playing by himself. Or the magnitude of the moment.
The La Porte junior claimed both of his No. 3 singles matches, including sealing the Slicer Invitational title after his win against South Bend Adams in the final. Ake was pivotal in lifting La Porte to a hard-fought, 3-2 victory over the Eagles at the LeRoy Courts in Kesling Park.
Ake, normally a doubles player, delivered twice on the day to help the Slicers capture their own invite against a talented Adams squad.
"It was pretty cool," he said. "It was quite the experience. It's something I've never felt before. Playing doubles, you don't get that type of exhilaration."
With La Porte leading two-matches-to-one, Ake captured the second set of his contest, 6-2, to beat the Eagles' Michael Dunham and clinch the invite crown for the team. He also rallied from a 3-0 deficit in the opening set to win it, 7-6(2).
Ake previously played singles on the JV, but never on the varsity. Considering those circumstances, Ake thrived on Saturday.
"When Alex Ake plays with no reservations and no fear, he's incredibly tough," Slicers coach Don Varda said. "He's tough.
"He's been such a trooper for us this year. His partner got moved. Him and Graham (Siefker) would have won every match this year at No. 2 doubles. We had some injuries, his partner got moved. He had to take a leadership role. He took that role. He had to step up today and play singles. He won both of his matches today. I'm tremendously proud of Alex Ake."
Siefker didn't play against Adams at No. 2 doubles due to a shoulder injury after playing earlier in the day versus Lowell. Varda added he's not sure how much time Siefker will miss.
Besides Ake, La Porte fought back after falling behind at No. 1 singles, No. 2 singles and No. 2 doubles. They wound up claiming the No. 2 doubles contest and were highly competitive at No. 1 and No. 2 singles.
“I'm extremely happy,” Varda said. “This is why you coach. You see this level of development with your team.”
At No. 1, the Slicers' Andy Emmons dug himself a 4-1 hole in the opening set to Ben Guerrero. He responded, though, and cut it to 5-4. While he dropped that set, 7-5, he came back in the next set to cruise, 6-0, to force a decisive third set, which was played as a tiebreaker. In a grueling third set, both players traded points back and forth until Emmons ultimately fell 11-9.
Carson Stalbaum and Tristen Poe had a much different match at No. 1 doubles.
They jumped ahead early and never looked back, dispatching the Eagles' Peter Nagy and Vian Mariani in straight sets, 6-1, 6-3. Stalbaum and Poe broke serve to finish it, winning on Stalbaum's smash.
“They've just completely continued to improve every week,” Varda said. “They've come together as friends. They know where each other is on the court. Tristen is doing a tremendous job from the baseline. Carson's putting the ball away at the net.”
The other La Porte doubles duo, Brock Schultz and Travis Chalik, a pair of freshmen, were down 4-3 in the first set versus Jacob Lutz and Michael Mazurek. They rallied, however, and claimed the next two games to go ahead 5-4. They then won that set 6-4, before taking a commanding 5-0 cushion in the ensuing set en route to a 6-2 decision.
“They're two brand new freshmen," Varda added. "Travis has never played in a sanctioned varsity match in his life. I was extremely proud of him.”
Slicers' No. 2 singles player Liam Wolf was staring at a 4-1 deficit in the opening set. But like Emmons, Schultz and Chalik, he stormed back and trimmed the margin to 5-4. He ended up dropping that set, 6-4, but made it competitive. Wolf followed by building a 5-2 lead in the second set, before losing a hard-fought contest, 7-5, to Marty Stoner.
While La Porte received several quality performances, Ake was particularly effective.
After trailing 3-0 in the first set, he clawed back and pulled within 3-2. Ake ended up prevailing in that set, 7-6 (2), despite facing a 5-4 hole.
“Definitely figuring out his serve helped me rally to win that set,” Ake said. “He had a crazy serve. He was a really cool guy. He had some nice shots, but I had to keep the ball in more and figuring out his serve, I was able to return the ball easier and that really helped out a lot.”
In the opener, the Slicers rolled 5-0 over Lowell.
Emmons routed Chris Overmeyer 6-0, 6-0 at No. 1 singles, while at No. 2 singles, Wolf won in straight sets, 6-0, 6-0, over Logan Fleming. Ake topped Ronald Gryrzewski 6-2, 6-2 at No. 3 singles, and at No. 1 doubles, Stalbaum and Poe cruised 6-0, 6-1 over Sebastian DeWitt and Landon Krambeck. Siefker and Chalik edged Scotty Griggs and Jasper Hochbaum, 7-5, 2-6, 10-6, at No. 2 doubles.
The Slicers improved their record to 12-6.
La Porte 3, S.B. Adams 2
La Porte 5, Lowell 0