OBERLIN — Avon sophomore Nico Mostardi’s dreams of a state berth are on hold until Saturday morning for the second straight year.
But if he displays just a fraction of the heart, guile and determination he showed during his 6-4, 6-7 (2-7), 6-4 quarterfinal loss to Kenston’s Austin Barr on Thursday during the first day of the Division I Northeast district tournament at Oberlin College, the state-qualifying drought for Lorain County’s high schools may be over.
Mostardi fought through back spasms, which flared up late in the first set, and deficits of 4-0 and 5-2 in the second set to push Barr to the brink. In fact, Mostardi was in the process of fighting back from a 5-3 deficit in the third set before Barr put him away in a match that lasted more than 90 minutes.
“No one is going to quit in that situation,” Mostardi said. “There’s no point in it. I want to win. I don’t want to lose. I’m going to do everything I can to try to win.
“I started getting back spasms at the end of the first set, serving down 5-4, and I couldn’t hit a serve. The second set, I go down 4-0 in like five minutes. My back was just killing me at that point. But I dug as deep as I could and somehow pulled it out and kept on fighting.”
A tennis player from a Lorain County school has not qualified for state since 2007.
Lorain County is guaranteed representation in Columbus, as Amherst resident and St. Ignatius senior Yaw Boakye teamed with fellow senior Christian Zuber for a pair of wins, including a 6-2, 6-5 (7-5) quarterfinal win over Solon’s Nam Le and Rushil Shah, to reach his first state tournament.
Avon Lake resident and St. Ignatius junior Eric Schuette is in the same boat as Mostardi, having to play an all-or-nothing match Saturday morning for one of the final two qualifying spots. Mostardi will play Mayfield’s Shouta Fukamachi in one consolation semifinal, while Schuette will play Willoughby South’s Vince Anzalone in the other.
Mostardi won his first match with ease, 6-1, 6-0 over Cloverleaf’s Austin Hanna. The match with Barr proved to be a different animal entirely.
Mostardi had to be attended to by a trainer on the changeover following the first set. And at every changeover, Mostardi lay on his back and stretched to try to alleviate the pain. By the end of the match, Mostardi said his back felt fine.
With Barr needing just one more game to advance to state, Mostardi wasn’t willing to call it a day. He reeled off three consecutive games to tie the second set at 5, then forced a tiebreaker.
Feeding off the momentum of his comeback, Mostardi dominated the tiebreaker, closing out the set with four straight points to set up the all-or-nothing third set.
Mostardi won the first game, but Barr stopped the bleeding and jumped out to a 5-3 lead. Mostardi won the next game, but it wasn’t enough.
“He was a wounded warrior, in every sense of the word,” said Avon head coach Art Gibbs, who then deferred to assistant coach Don “Swede” Svenson.
“I think everyone in his camp thought that he should retire due to medical reasons, but he insisted on continuing to play,” Svenson said. “Now we understand that he was right all along. We saw a very tough match and we saw what kind of guts he had out there.”
Mostardi admitted that letting go of the loss to Barr would be tough.
“I can’t even think about Saturday right now,” he said. “But I’m going to have to or else I’m going to be bad (Saturday).”
Boakye had come up short in his three previous trips to districts, and while he and Zuber were able to dispose of their quarterfinal opponents in two sets, the tiebreaker allowed some of those old doubts to creep in.
“I’ve been in this position about three times, and having those match points (go to the tiebreaker) was kind of nerve-wracking,” Boakye said. “It feels great to have finally made it. We may have looked like we were keeping our composure, but we really weren’t. It was tough to battle through that second set and finish it off.”
Schuette began his day with a 6-1, 6-0 win over Boardman’s Donovan Barrett. However, Walsh Jesuit’s Aaron Sandberg handed Schuette a 6-0, 6-0 loss.
Westlake junior Cal Craven won’t be able to make a return trip to state this season. He and doubles partner Aris Jhaveri, a freshman, took Walsh Jesuit’s Gaven Cona and William Smith to three sets, but they wound up on the short end of a 6-3, 1-6, 6-3 first-round score.
Contact Dan Gilles at 329-7135 or firstname.lastname@example.org.