Minford's doubles tennis team of Tommy Hempill and Levi Lester had a defining moment Friday afternoon at the Division II Central District Tennis Tournament at Columbus Academy in Gahanna. And no matter what definition Hempill and Lester use to define the moment, they can be sure to use the words "state qualifiers" at some point.
The Falcon pair are the only SOC representatives at the district tournament to advance to the state tournament at The Ohio State University's Stickney Tennis Center on Friday.
"It was an intense match. Every point was a point needed," said Hempill. "We couldn't have played two other kids who made just calls and they're good players."
"In almost every set, we had to fight back from behind. It was definitely tough" added Lester.
"Even the set we started off good in, which was the third one, we still ended up getting down, but we fought back," said Hempill. "I guess Minford is known for their scrapping."
When asked what he was thinking when the last point was decided, Hempill said, "I closed my eyes, put my racquet on the ground and probably screamed like a little girl. It had to be the happiest moment of my life."
Lester's feelings echoed Hempill's.
"It was awesome," he said. "It definitely ranks up there in moments."
The duo did not have an easy road to the state tournament. The first match of the day for the Minford players was against a team from Berlin Hiland. Hempill and Lester handled the pair from Berlin Hiland with little to no trouble as they did not give up a single game and advanced to the second round of the district tournament.
In the second match, Lester and Hempill would face Bexley's team of Bryan Seckel and Elliott Fowler. Seckel and Fowler only advanced to the second round after a three-set match with a pair from Big Walnut. In the match, the duo from Bexley had a 5-1 lead in a second set tiebreaker only to see it slip away and eventually even the match at one set apiece before the pair regained their composure and took the third set to advance.
In the first set of Bexley's match with Minford, the Falcons fell behind early and battled back to send the first set into a tiebreaker which Hempill and Lester won to take the first set. In the next set, the Bexley pair was able to break a Minford serve and retained the lead until Minford's team returned the favor to knot the set at four games apiece.
The pair of Seckel and Fowler responded, winning two of the next three games, to take a 6-5 lead in the set. Hempill and Lester forced a second tiebreaker which Bexley took 7-5 to take the second set.
In the third set, Minford jumped to out to a 3-0 lead, but then Bexley found whatever it was that was missing and won five straight games to take a 5-3 lead in the set and was on the brink of advancing to the state tournament. The Minford pair once again fought their way back into the match to force yet another tiebreaker with a trip to OSU's Stickney Center on the line.
Minford looked to be well on their way with a commanding 6-3 lead in the tiebreaker, but the team from Bexley would not go away. Three straight points won by Seckel and Fowler knotted the tiebreaker at six apiece.
That is when Hempill and Lester showed the few that hung around to watch the whole match what SOC tennis is all about. The pair won the next two points to take the tiebreaker 8-6, take the third set, take the match, but more importantly take a reserved spot next Friday at the state tournament.
"All the tiebreakers were 7-5 and 8-6 in the last one so they all were right to the end too," said Minford coach Jim Parkes. "We had a team (to play) that we thought we were even with. We'd be up, then we'd be down. So I was really proud of the guys, they kept plugging along. We thought his was a good draw for them to get the state and they took care of it."
Minford still has two matches left at the district tournament to determine seeding. The matches will start at 9 a.m. today at Columbus Academy, located at 4300 Cherry Bottom Road in Gahanna.
Minford's semifinal match will be against the team of Austin Griffin and Joey Frank from Columbus Academy.
The other two SOC players who qualified for the district tournament were Trent Burchett of Valley and Chad Pierron of Wheelersburg, but did not advance to the state tournament.
Burchett was locked in a match with Sam Kinsey of East Liverpool. Burchett battled in the first set and was trailing 4-3 before Kinsey was able to pull away late to take the first set 6-4. Kinsey really had his game on in the second set and defeated Burchett 6-1 to advance. Kinsey was eliminated in the second round by Will Petrie of Columbus Academy.
Pierron won his first match of the day in classic Pierron fashion - without giving up a game to Cambridge's Greg Roberts. In Pierron's second match he met up with a player from the host school, Columbus Academy's Andrew Enslen.
Pierron trailed much of the first set to Enslen until Pierron broke Enslen's serve and knotted the set at four and eventually took the lead 5-4. Enslen tied the match at five before Pierron won the last two games to win the first set 7-5.
In the second set, Pierron trailed the whole length of the set and never was in the lead, as Enslen evened the match at one set apiece, winning the second set 6-4. By the third set, Pierron was looking to come into his own and starting to find a strategy that was working against Enslen. Pierron had a 4-1 lead when he started to experience leg cramps.
Despite attempts to relieve the cramps in his legs, Pierron's mobility was just not what it was earlier in the match and he could not chase down Enslen's returns. Enslen fought back and was able to take the last five games of the third set to advance to the semifinal round, where he will face his teammate Petrie.