An ominous cloud roiled past Mead High School, bringing with it a touch of lightning that threatened to postpone the No. 1 mixed doubles final with Central Valley siblings Leslie and Peter Ho at match point.
Peter promptly double-faulted.
But someone in the audience at Saturday’s 66th Inland Empire Tennis Tournament urged him to hurry and get in another serve before the courts were cleared.
Ho, the light-hearted half of the duo, made good to wrap up a 6-1, 6-0 triumph over Davis players Hannah Besso and Ben Chang.
Sister and brother are the respective No. 1 singles players for the Bears. Leslie is a top-eight state placer. When paired for a rare mixed doubles tournament, they form a deadly combination.
“That was probably one of our toughest matches,” Leslie said after they toyed with their foe. “I think we only gave up six games total (in four matches).”
A similar thing occurred earlier when they teamed for the first time to win a tournament in the Tri-Cities.
“We wanted to have some fun because we like to play together,” Peter said of the decision for a repeat at the Inland Empire. “It turns out we’re good at mixed doubles.”
“(Peter plays the net) because I’m afraid of the ball,” Leslie said. “I’m always on the baseline because my ground stroke is better.”
One telling play was when Leslie continually returned the ball to Chang’s side, then scorched a passing shot past Besso’s left side. Up front, the two worked together to set up points, including Peter’s short unreachable blasts, one of which bounded high and landed over the chain-link fence that surrounds Mead’s courts.
Peter joked he would sometimes get mad at his sister, but now that’s she’s good they have no problems. Leslie countered that she’s always been good.
“Sometimes he makes me mad. He’s a ball hog,” she said. “(But) we always get along.”
Mead’s Katijene Stime was the No. 1 girls singles champion, living up to her top seed. But the final was a ragged 6-4, 6-4 comeback against Abigail Pillet of Ellensburg. Neither could hold serve – common in girls tennis, said Panthers coach Lynn Coleman – and the contest was error-filled.
“When you’re not playing well and the elements are against you, it takes longer,” Stime said, adding she was glad to win at home.
Perhaps her mind was on today when her team, “The Four A-Mead-Gos,” is seeking to defend last year’s high school Bloomsday Challenge title and replace the iPod Shuffle she won last year then left on an airplane.
In No. 1 boys singles, one of the state’s best high school players, Wenatchee junior Hudson Barnhart, defeated West Valley-Yakima’s Aaron Farmer 6-1, 6-4 with a display of power and ability to put backspin on the ball that resulted in several returns into the net by his foe.
“I kind of go big on shots and am consistent when I need to be,” said Barnhart, ranked No. 1 in his Washington USTA age group the past two years. “I’ve been playing solid the whole tournament and had a good start. Then I got tired and lost focus.”
Farmer defeated Gonzaga Prep’s Alex Marcinski in the semifinals.
“That was one of Aaron’s best matches against us,” G-Prep coach Christian Birrer said. “They’re usually close, but he’s really playing well.”
Richland was the team winner by scoring in every event for 154 points. Among them were titles in No. 3 boys doubles and No. 2 mixed doubles. Wenatchee finished second with 143 – despite not entering four events – by winning three of six classes, adding No. 1 and 2 boys doubles to Barnhart’s victory.
Mead (138 points), Central Valley (130, with two second-place finishes), Lewis and Clark (123, with two seconds) and G-Prep (116) followed. University’s Hannah Nichols won the No. 2 girls singles and Lake City’s Matt Finney beat Clarkston’s Ryan Adams in No. 2 boys singles.