By George Bremer The Herald Bulletin
The Herald Bulletin
---- — ANDERSON — Frankton boys tennis coach Brett Sanders knows exactly how baseball managers like Dusty Baker and Clint Hurdle feel this week.
While the Reds and Pirates waged battle in one of this week’s three Major League Baseball one-game playoffs Tuesday, Sanders and his Eagles were preparing for a winner-take-all contest of their own.
The Anderson Sectional opens today with matches at two sites at 4:30 p.m.
The Indians face Elwood on the courts at Highland while Frankton battles Pendleton Heights in a match dripping with juicy storylines at Alexandria.
Alexandria and Lapel await the winners at Highland and Alexandria, respectively, for Thursday’s semifinals, and the championship match is slated for 4:30 p.m. at Highland on Friday.
Many eyes will gravitate toward the showdown between the Eagles and Arabians today. They are the prohibitive favorites in this field, and they’ve split a pair of matches already this season.
Frankton won 4-1 in the season opener, and Pendleton Heights answered with a 4-1 victory to win the Madison County championship. Add in the facts the Eagles (16-1) are fresh off their first Central Indiana Conference championship and that the loss to the Arabians is the lone blemish on their season, and it’s hard to imagine how this match could be more hyped.
“The only way it could be bigger would be for it to be the final and not the first round,” Sanders said with a laugh.
The former Highland star has worked hard to get the Frankton program to this point. In four seasons under Sanders’ tutelage, the Eagles have steadily risen from 5-13 to this year’s heights.
It’s a similar path to that of the Arabians under Royce Hammel. Pendleton Heights’ ascension peaked with the program’s first sectional crown last season, and Sanders doesn’t expect the Arabians to surrender it easily.
But that doesn’t mean his Eagles aren’t looking forward to the challenge.
“When we looked at the draw, I gotta be honest with you, almost every guy on the team was pretty pumped, pretty excited,” Sanders said.
That can be traced in part to Frankton’s county tournament experience. The Eagles played three tough matches in three consecutive days on the road — winning at Lapel and Anderson before losing at Pendleton Heights.
Despite the fact Frankton and the Arabians are viewed as co-favorites, there’s plenty of talent throughout the county. And each of the other four schools are capable of winning any given match.
Sanders felt like the physical toll of the county tournament wore down his players by the final day, and he believes the sectional draw could be a blessing in disguise.
“When you have a county as talented as this one is, you’d almost rather play the toughest competition first,” he explained.
Neither team expects an easy path past the first round, but drawing each other means there’s no reason even to think about the other schools in the field until their personal season series is decided.
Sanders expects both teams to make adjustments based on what they’ve seen in the first two matches. And he believes everyone involved should be ready for a long night.
“They’re a good team, very well-coached,” he said. “I told our guys just to expect every match to go five hours and three sets. And we’ll just see how everything comes out in the end.”
Anderson Sectional schedule Today Anderson vs. Elwood at Highland, 4:30 p.m. Frankton vs. Pendleton Heights at Alexandria, 4:30 p.m. Thursday Anderson/Elwood winner vs. Alexandria at Highland, 4:30 p.m. Frankton/PH winner vs. Lapel at Alexandria, 4:30 p.m. Friday Championship at Highland, 4:30 p.m.