MIFFLINTOWN - Before Juniata's District 6 Class AA team tournament semifinal match against Bishop McCort, Juniata coach Alan Musselman told his No. 2, Brad Lipka, that he wasn't going to play.
For a few minutes, Lipka believed him. Almost about an hour and a half later, he took the court against McCort's Luke DiFrancesco and beat him 6-4, 6-4, to secure one of Juniata's five victories in a 5-0 win over McCort at Juniata High School.
Juniata advances to the championship match today, where the Indians will face top seed Bishop Guilfoyle, a 3-2 winner over Richland.
Sentinel photo by JEFF?FISHBEIN
Juniata’s Luis Pacheco, right, returns a volley while partner Taylor Stine looks on. The duo were the No. 2 doubles team for the Indians in Wednesday’s District 6 Class AA?team tennis semifinal in Mifflintown. See more photos online at cu.lewistownsentinel.com
"He has gotten better every step of the way for a year," Musselman said of Lipka. "He has been playing pretty much around the calendar and he's improved immensely. He always plays close matches though no matter whom he plays. He's got staying power on the court. He's got an unusual form, but he has staying power, he just gets the ball back."
Bishop McCort didn't arrive at Juniata High School for the scheduled 4 p.m. start until 4:50 after a wrong turn coming off U.S. 322 landed the Crushers at East Juniata High School. The match started just before 5 p.m.
District 6 Class AA singles champion Issac Eck was finally able to start off his 6-0, 6-0 demolition of McCort's Tyler Spotz to account for the most dominant Indians' win of the day.
Not even the extra time could cool off Eck, who sprayed the court with his shots and kept Spotz on his feet.
"I think it's just staying focused even though I had to wait," Eck said. "Waiting is a big part of tennis. Just staying focused."
Eck missed the line by centimeters and showed some frustration, but rallied to win the fifth game in the first set and move ahead 5-0. Juniata's - and the district's - top small-school singles player quickly finished off the set by a 6-0 final and took the second set in the same fashion.
"I honestly just played my game," Eck said. "Consistency wise, he wasn't that consistent, so if I was able to play solid ... That's what did it for me today."
The other singles win came from Brad Strawser who beat Nick Piskurtch of Bishop McCort 6-4, 6-1.
The doubles team of Ricky Heck III and Chantz Imes shook off a slow start to win the first game of the first set. Heck blast a shot that painted the back line and got his team within one of Mihalko and Rugg.
The McCort pair ended up closing the game out to cut Heck and Imes lead to 3-2. The Juniata duo responded and won three of the four games to close out the set 6-3.
"Once we got going, we do pretty (well) as long as we don't let it get to our heads," Heck said. "We just keep going."
They won the following set 6-1 and secured Juniata's second win of the day.
Taylor Stine and Luis Pacheco finished off Milan Curlet and Joey Vatanok 6-2, 6-2 to seal the match for the Indians.
"Our No. 2 doubles was pretty solid," Musselman said. "We have been playing a bigger format, so we have some better players at our No. 2 doubles. Both Taylor (Stine) and Luis Pacheco played very well. They kind of ran away with it."
Lipka ended his decision win over DiFrancesco and Strawser downed Piskurtch to finish off the sweep.
This is the third time the Indians have made it this far; this is also the point where it has ended the past two, something the players want to change.
"That would be awesome," Eck said. "(It's) three straight years of making the finals. Hopefully we can do something in the finals."
The finals begin today at 4 p.m. at the Leopold complex in Altoona.
"It means a lot," Heck said. "It's the third year going to the finals. We haven't done it the last two years. This year we have to do it because we're all seniors."