Steve Lewis/Durango Herald
There’s no better time to play your best than when you had best play better.
Durango High School’s No. 1 boys tennis player found himself in that exact spot Saturday, and he did exactly that.
After a decisive 6-3 first-set victory over Grand Junction Central opponent Jesi Nordstrom at the DHS tennis courts on a sunny Saturday morning, Ryder Searle fell behind 6-5 in Set 2.
So he cranked up his game to better.
Searle nailed two consecutive serves that the Warriors’ No. 1 failed to return to tie Set 2 at 6-6 and move to a seven-point tiebreaker.
Then, he cranked it up to best.
“I really like tiebreakers,” Searle said before whistling through his teeth just like he did in between points all morning.
“I just really like the pressure. You just got to win it there or it’s over,” said Searle, son of Jack and Tammy Searle.
Nordstrom gave Searle a little help to start off the tiebreaker, double-faulting on his serve. And from there, it was all Searle.
A pretty forehand blew past the leaping Nordstrom to make it 4-1 after a long rally.
Two athletic plays at the net in the next point made it 5-1, then Searle finished off the match with a nifty, wristy, lunging backhand that sent the ball cross-court, over the net and past an off-balance Nordstrom to win 7-6 (6-1) and lead the Demons to a 4-3 win over the Warriors.
After having some trouble at the net throughout the match, Searle said his skills manifested at just the right time.
“At the end, I was getting it,” he said.
A Pagosa Springs student who plays at Durango because his school doesn’t have a tennis team, Searle said he didn’t like his play in the first set. At times he struggled to return Nordstrom’s powerful serve, which Searle said had a lot of spin on it, too.
But Nordstrom also mangled a good number of those serves, sending them full bore into the net and double faulting nearly a half dozen times in the first set to aid Searle’s easy win.
As Nordstrom warmed up, the serves hit their mark more often, though, allowing for long, fluid rallies that showed off both players’ strong forehand strikes.
“I like my forehand a lot,” the Demon/Pirate said. “It feels really comfortable.”
Backhand, not so much.
“My backhand is weaker than my forehand,” Searle said. “Working on it, but it’s definitely weaker.”
Once Nordstrom found that weakness, he worked to put his forehand shots on Searles’ backhand. From there, most points became a waiting game to see who would make a mistake first.
Just often enough for the DHS No. 1, Nordstrom tripped up first.
The No. 1 doubles match often was a game of errors, too.
Durango’s Dylan Blair and Patrick Neal had played Travis Liden and Camren Thomas before, so they knew just what to do: Make one run for balls, make the other flinch by hitting right at him, then wait for the mistakes.
“We kind of figured out their strategies,” Blair said.
“Their hits are slower than we’re used to, so we had to adjust,” Neal said.
And they did. The Demons’ duo won 7-5, 6-4.
“It was a good game, for sure. They’re good players, but in the end, we triumphed,” said Blair, son of Kurt and Maria Blair.
They’ve adjusted to each other, too.
Neal, a senior, moved to Durango from Washington this year, so both boys are playing with a new partner.
“We just kind of teamed up this year and started to figure things out,” Blair said.
A bit of opposite genetics also has worked in their favor.
“He’s the first left-handed player I’ve played with, and I love it,” Neal said.
“It confuses (our opponents) because they don’t know who to hit the backhand to, especially when we’ve got both hands on the racket.”
There’s another thing that might confuse the opposition, too: Neal’s minor musical show – a bit of singing under his breath on the court.
“It helps me concentrate,” said Neal, son of Mike and Tonya Bierly. “If I’m going to get distracted, I want to distract myself.”
But that distraction conspicuously was absent Saturday.
“He usually has a lot more singing and dancing, but (Saturday) we thought we had a chance, so we kept it pretty serious,” Blair said.
The No. 4 Demons’ doubles, Harrison Quick and Tim Marten, didn’t have much choice other than serious.
The last match of the day, the duo dropped their first set to Brigham Beckstead and Trace Levinson 6-3 as both teams and plenty of parents looked on.
Like Searle, they must have reveled in the pressure.
The Demons doubles team came from a game down to win the second set 7-6 with a 7-5 tiebreaker and force a 10-point tiebreaker to decide the match.
With nearly 50 people looking on, Quick and Marten won 10-8.
“I was really proud of our No. 4 doubles pulling it out at the end,” DHS head coach Reagyn Germer said.
No. 2 doubles pair Blake McDaniel and Jalen Muller added the fourth Durango win over Jon Leonard and Kolten McClaskey, winning 6-3, 3-6, 10-8.
No. 2 singles player Aaron Cash lost to Drake Giese 6-3, 6-1; No. 3 singles player Wesley Komick lost to Lael Nordstrom 6-0, 6-1; and No. 3 doubles team Garrett Crowell and Chris Walton lost to Brent Bollinger and Bryce Atchison 6-3, 6-3.
“I think, as a whole, it was pretty good,” Germer said. “Overall, they were a good team so that was a good win for us.”