SHILLINGTON >> There are times a tennis match can turn on a single game.
That happened Thursday at Governor Mifflin during the Berks League singles championship match between juniors Quin Bucheit of Hamburg and Brandywine Heights’ Ethan Rothermel. The duo were locked in a long, engaging first set, tied at 5, when a grueling deuce game determined not only who won that series of points, but indeed, the remainder of the match.
Bucheit and Rothermel battled through an eight-deuce affair until the Bullets’ top player broke Hamburg’s ace to take a 6-5 lead.
Bucheit returned fire with a break of Rothermel to force a first-set tiebreak, which went to the latter by a 7-5 count.
But the gas tank was empty on the Hamburg side of the net. As if the loss of the set stole whatever wind was left from his sails, Bucheit never recovered.
Rothermel rolled to a 7-6 (5), 6-0 win to claimed the Berks League top flight singles championship. Both players will be seen again in Hershey at the District 3 tournament, set to begin May 5 at Hershey Racquet Club.
“It’s incredible, a dream come true,” Rothermel said. “I thought eventually I could get here, but to do it junior year, a year early, is awesome.”
During that long deuce game neither player gave an inch of ground. It took a bigger bite out of Bucheit than Rothermel. Neither said they considered conserving energy for the rest of the match – the moment was the only thing that mattered.
“You know, I’ve been in those situations before, but I knew here that this was such an important game at 5-all,” Rothermel said. “I knew I had to dig in. There was no way I was conceding just to move on to the next game. You’ve got to try to win the game.”
Perhaps a grueling makeup slate of matches forced upon Bucheit was the culprit. He played in three matches on Wednesday due to the loss of Tuesday’s entire slate due to rain, which forced the final to Thursday. Whatever the case, Bucheit began to fade badly, physically, late in the first set. He was hampered by a cough that worsened as the match wore on and became visibly flush and exhausted.
By the time his opponent had wrapped up a first set that took 1 hour and 15 minutes to play, there was nothing left. The second set took 20 minutes.
“I was still tired from Wednesday. One of those three matches was a three-setter,” Bucheit said. “Once I lost that first set, it was very difficult for me to come back.
“I don’t have allergies. I think (the coughing) was just from being so tired from (Wednesday), and maybe a bit of the heat and humidity got to me. It doesn’t happen often.”
Bucheit jumped out to an early lead in that first set with a hold and a break before Rothermel found his footing by winning five of the next eight games.
“First two games I wasn’t returning very well, shots were flying in and I like to keep the errors to minimum,” Rothermel admitted. “I was putting way more errors in than he was.”
That trend leveled off mid-set as Bucheit’s unforced error count began to climb.
The rise of both players to the league final this spring was not necessarily surprising, though each went out early last season (Rothermel first round, Bucheit second) as sophomores. The lack of true lockdown ace at powerhouse Wyomissing this spring, which had finally bade goodbye to Dan Trifoi, certainly helped to smooth the path.
Rothermel saw opportunity this past offseason.
“I worked really hard over the summer, working on my strokes, working on my footwork,” he said. “Then this winter, I played a lot of indoor. I played a lot of the guys around here who were (in this tournament). Just getting experience playing with them was huge.”
The payoff, 10 months later, was that shiny gold medal hanging around his neck.