The last match was the most dramatic match of the quarter finals at the International Racquetball Tour's (IRT's) Florida Spring Break event in Sarasota as Jason Mannino defeated Chris Crowther in five games, 4-11, 11-7, 8-11, 11-1, 11-9, to deny Crowther his first career semi-final berth. Crowther was three points from the semis at 8-8 in game five, and didn't make it easy on Mannino, as Crowther fought off match point four times before Mannino won it on the fifth opportunity.
Crowther was hurt during his Round of 16 victory over Alejandro Landa, and it showed against Mannino as Crowther looked awkward any time he lunged for the ball. Nonetheless his performance was super. He hit half lob and lob serves from the far right of the service box to the back left corner often hitting the half lobs at 2/3rds speed. It was an effective strategy that almost got him to the semis for the first time in his career.
Ben Croft was the first semi-finalist in Sarasota, Florida. Croft defeated Jose Rojas in the first quarter final match of the day, 11-1, 8-11, 11-4, 11-4.
After losing the first game 11-1, Rojas found himself down 7-3 in game two. He called a time out, and the next chance he got in the service box, he switched from half lob serves to drive serves - primarily to the right side. That proved successful as he rode that to win the second game, 11-8.
However, Croft adjusted, and again got out to large leads in games three and four, which he didn't relinquish, winning in four games. Afterwards, Croft said the biggest change he'd made in the off-season was to change from a two handed backhand to a one handed one. He also emphasized how important it is to hit the ball down the line, which Croft did very effectively against Rojas.
Rojas was in the quarters, because Jack Huczek, the 2nd seed, retired during their match in the Round of 16. Huczek has been hampered by an injury and apparently that flared up again against Rojas.
Croft will play Rocky Carson in the semis, as Carson defeated Mitch Williams in the quarter finals, 11-8, 11-5, 9-11, 11-0. Williams was his own worst enemy often as he fault served several times, and he acknowledged that after the match saying he "couldn't hit an effective drive serve." In fact, he served half lobs at the end of game three, which helped him win that game, although it did take four games points to get it done.
But Williams said he felt "off balance all night" and "never knew where the ball was." He was the victim of several strange bounces during the match.
For his part, Carson said the conditions did play into his game style, as he's "used to playing sloppy," and has no problem winning ugly.
IRT #1 Kane Waselenchuk is also through to the semis after defeating Shane Vanderson, 11-2, 11-1, 11-6. Waselenchuk was in complete control in the first two games, but in game three, Vanderson got on a streak and held a 6-3 lead. Unfortunately for him that's all he got, but perhaps it gives him some inspiration for how he should be playing all the time, as during that streak he really seemed to go for everything.
Waselenchuk changed serves in an attempt to cool off Vanderson, switching to lob serves from the drive serves he done to that point. The strategy worked, as Vanderson didn't score again, despite getting in the service box. Twice Vanderson fault served late in game three, which didn't help him any.
Afterwards, Vanderson made compared his reaction to Waselenchuk's performance in the first two games to that of Arnold Palmer's reaction to Jack Nicholas, saying "he plays a game I'm not familiar with."
Both players said the court conditions were tough, as it's very humid in the facility and the walls are sometimes wet resulting in the ball sliding along them rather than taking a true bounce. Waselenchuk said the conditions meant moving his feet was even more important than it usually is, so that he could adjust to whatever the ball was going to do.
The semi finals can be viewed live over the internet via the IRT Network.com. The first quarter final match is scheduled for 4:00 PM Eastern on Saturday.
And kudos to the IRT Network for improving the score line displayed during matches. Previously, only the score for the current game was displayed, but now scores for all games in the match are visible, which is a definite improvement.
IRT - Florida Spring Break, Sarasota, Florida
Kane Waselenchuk d. Shane Vanderson, 11-2, 11-1, 11-6
Jason Mannino d. Chris Crowther, 4-11, 11-7, 8-11, 11-1, 11-9
Rocky Carson d. Mitch Williams, 11-8, 11-5, 9-11, 11-0
Ben Croft d. Jose Rojas, 11-1, 8-11, 11-4, 11-4
Kane Waselenchuk vs. Jason Mannino
Rocky Carson vs. Ben Croft
Follow the bouncing ball....