Saturday, October 10, 2009

Kentucky Pro Am - Semi-finals

Jason Mannino has made his first final since February 2008, as he defeated top seed Rocky Carson, 12-10, 5-11, 11-5, 12-10, in the semi-finals of the Kentucky Pro Am Racquetball Championships in Bowling Green.

On Sunday, Mannino will play Jack Huczek, who was his opponent in his last final - the 2008 Seattle Open, when Huczek defeated Mannino in a tie-breaker. The last time Mannino won an IRT tournament was over two years ago: the 2007 Kansas City Pro Am, when he defeated Huczek in three straight games.

Mannino started well against Carson, getting a 6-0 lead in game one. Carson got back in the game though, in part because Mannino got distracted by some calls by the referee that he disagreed with.

Mannino did get to 10-5, but Carson showed why he was the top seed by coming back to tie the game at 10. Yet Mannino wasn't to be denied, and won the next two points to take game one 12-10.

Game two was close until the mid-game, when they were tied at 5-5. Then Carson went on a run to win it 11-5. Game three was similar as they were again tied at 5-5. But in that game it was Mannino who went on the run to win it 11-5.

Game four was dramatic, as Mannino built another big lead at 5-0 and 7-2, only to see Carson come back and take the lead 8-7. When he extended that to 10-7, it looked like there was going to be a fifth game tie-breaker.

But Mannino had other plans. He helped himself with a great play off a ball that came long off the back wall forcing Carson to make a tight play at the front wall to try and drop it in. Mannino got that to save game point.

He got his ninth point on an avoidable call against Carson. Then on Mannino's first match point, they were hitting back and forth front court cross shots when a down the line shot would win the rally. Carson was the first to hit that shot, and we wondered if Mannino would get another chance.

He did, and made no mistake the second time to win the fourth game 12-10 and take the match.

Afterwards, Carson said little except that he was "disappointed." Mannino, who's never short for words, praised his opponent's play, and admitted to being a "little nervous" at the start as he felt he hadn't played well in the quarter finals.

Huczek reached the final by defeating Shane Vanderson in the semis, 11-2, 11-5, 11-13, 11-3. Huczek's now made the finals of all three International Racquetball Tour (IRT) tournaments this season.

After a poor start, Vanderson played better in game two, which was back and forth early. Vanderson got a 5-2 advantage, but Huczek then tied it at 5-5. It took about 30 rallies to get to that point.

Then Huczek went on a run to 8-5, when Vanderson called a time out. To no avail, as Huczek got the next three points as well to get a two game advantage.

It wasn't looking like there would be a fourth game, as Huczek went out to a 7-2 and then 10-5 lead in game three. However, "any given day" category Vanderson got it going, primarily by serving lobs over to the right side - Huczek's forehand. He followed that up with solid shots and ran six points to take the lead 11-10.

Then inexplicably Vanderson changed serve and lobbed left. Huczek hit a winning return and it looked like Vanderson's work was going to be for naught. But Vanderson got the serve right back, and did not go back to the lob right.

Instead Vanderson drove serve - as he had earlier in the match - and short served, giving Huczek the serve back. Huczek got another point to tie it at 11, but no more.

That allowed Vanderson another chance, and this time he made no mistake, winning the next two rallies to take game three and force a fourth game.

In that game, Huczek got the early lead, and although Vanderson tied it at 3-3, Huczek pushed through to win 11-3. Throughout the match Huczek used lob serves to Vanderson, mostly to the right side - Vanderson's forehand. Huczek's lob Z to the right was especially effective.

You can watch Sunday's final via the IRT Network at noon central time.

2009 Kentucky Pro Am Racquetball Championships

Jason Mannino d. Rocky Carson, 12-10, 5-11, 11-5, 12-10
Jack Huczek d. Shane Vanderson, 11-2, 11-5, 11-13, 11-3

Final - Sunday Noon Central Time

Jack Huczek vs. Jason Mannino

Follow the bouncing ball....

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