It’s not going to be easy, but Terre Haute South coach Bill Blankenbaker thinks he has the 23rd-ranked Braves in the right position to pull off the upset of No. 2 Park Tudor on Saturday.
Blankenbaker made a couple lineup switches late in the season.
A leg injury to Josh Gayso prompted the move of senior Alex Barksdale from No. 1 doubles to No. 3 singles.
“I switched to playing with Reed Crawford. Then they made a final change a couple days going into sectionals, and then they switched me to [No.] 3 singles,” Barksdale explained. Crawford, a junior who was promoted from junior varsity, was then teamed up with sophomore Scott Kellar.
South’s only senior in the starting lineup, Barksdale is all for helping the team in any way. He was a three-year starter in the doubles lineup for the Braves, playing an integral role in South’s three straight trips to semistate.
“I really don’t mind playing either,” Barksdale said. “The thing I like about doubles is the pace and I like being up at the net. The transition to singles is it’s slower and it demands a little bit more consistency and patience.”
Barksdale will be facing a fellow left-handed player from Park Tudor on Saturday at Center Grove.
“Just trying to be patient and move in at the right opportunities,” Barksdale said. “Last year they got us 4-1 in semistate. We had a really solid lineup last year. This year, it’s just as solid. I really think we have the potential to win all five spots.”
Blankenbaker is proud of how his senior has played since the move.
“Alex was very capable of playing three singles at the first of the year. Instead of putting him there, I used him with Josh in trying to go for five points. Alex has played a lot of singles over the summer. He was No. 3 on the singles ladder. He’s a very good singles player. I think that’s a very good place for him. I think he’s got a better chance than anybody else.”
Crawford and Kellar have worked well together, going 6-2 with losses to Indianapolis North Central and Brebeuf.
“We started working together real quick, had good teamwork,” Kellar said. “We were congratulating each other a lot; we made a good team.”
Crawford was thrilled to earn a varsity spot late in the season after playing well in JV matches. South had at least 40 players vying for spots in the preseason.
“We could have had several guys step in from junior varsity. There were four or five competing for the spot for Josh Gayso when he got injured,” Crawford noted.
Crawford said he and Kellar complement one anther well.
“I think Scott’s game really throws off the opponent. It’s off-pace for doubles teams of the bigger schools. It’s been helping us a lot,” Crawford said. “I’m pretty good at returning now, I got a lot better as the season progressed. My serving has been really strong.”
Blankenbaker has liked what he’s seen.
“The No. 1 doubles with Scott and Reed is a different doubles than what we had, but they’re a good different. As long as they can hit the right shots at the right time, I like our chances with them too,” Blankenbaker said.
The South coach also made a late change at No. 2 doubles, putting Luke Yeagley into the lineup with Trace Harruff.
“It’s a different lineup at two doubles with Yeagley in there. Luke brings more consistency so that’s a good thing. He and Trace are 6-1 so they’re playing good right now,” Blankenbaker said.
The rest of the Braves are peaking at the right time, too.
Krishan Kumar and Nathan Bogle will have their hands full with Park Tudor’s top two players, but Blankenbaker said his top singles players are on top of their games.
“Krishan is hitting better than ever right now. He’s played [his Park Tudor opponent] once and he’s playing a lot better than he did then,” Blankenbaker said.
Bogle will play fellow accomplished sophomore Daniel Rayl.
“Nathan’s going to have a tough one. Other players have played [Park Tudor’s No. 1] close and Nathan have played those players close,” Blankenbaker said.
The Braves and Panthers will play at 10 a.m. at Center Grove, with the winner earning a trip to the eight-team state finals Oct. 12-13 at Indianapolis North Central.