OBERLIN — Nico Mostardi appeared to be in the driver’s seat Saturday morning in his do-or-die Division I district consolation semifinal match against Mayfield’s Shouta Fukamachi at Oberlin College.
But after the Avon sophomore won his first set, the back spasms that plagued him during Thursday’s quarterfinal loss to Kenston’s Austin Barr flared up again.
Mostardi dropped a tough second set, but gritted his teeth, blocked out the pain and played some of his best tennis in the third set. The result was a 6-3, 3-6, 6-1 victory that earned him a spot in next weekend’s state tournament at Ohio State.
Not only did Mostardi become the first Avon tennis player — boy or girl — to make state, he is also the first boy from a Lorain County high school to make state since 2007.
Unfortunately for Mostardi, his back spasms prevented him from competing in the fifth-place match against his friend and rival, Vince Anzalone of Willoughby South. Anzalone, who overcame his own emotions and a 4-1 deficit in the third set to eliminate St. Ignatius junior and Avon Lake resident Eric Schuette 7-5, 4-6, 6-4 took fifth by injury default.
Just the same, nothing could dampen Mostardi’s mood following his big win.
“It’s the best feeling in the world,” Mostardi said. “To be the first player from my school to accomplish this, along with all the expectations and everything that came into this season and this tournament, I feel so relaxed right now. I’m just going to go down to state and do my best.
“Honestly, my main goal was to simply qualify for the state tournament, and I accomplished that. I really don’t have any goals for next weekend. I’m just going to go down, soak it all in, have fun and do my best and we’ll see what happens.”
Amherst resident Yaw Boakye also was derailed by the injury bug. After he and St. Ignatius doubles partner Christian Zuber lost to Copley’s Andrew Ong and Gavin Aten 7-6 (9-7), 6-2 in the semifinals, he turned his right ankle and skinned his left knee during the third-place match against Copley’s Matt and Nick Adzema.
The match was tied at 4 in the first set when Boakye was injured, and the Adzemas were awarded third place.
Mostardi said his back was holding up well in the first set, but he felt a twinge midway through the second.
“I took some Advil before my match, and my back felt fine through the first set,” he said. “But at the start of the second set, I go for a backhand and I twist wrong and it just shot through me — pinching, horrible pain. I couldn’t move. I couldn’t do anything.
“I was down 5-2 and I started coming back like I did (Thursday). But it pinched up again. I just really cringed. It got the best of me that second set, but I thought to myself, ‘I’ve got to fight through this if I want to go down to state.’ I just pushed through it as hard as I possibly could and just really went for it.”
Mostardi came out aggressive in the third set and dominated Fukamachi. Even Fukamachi’s request for line judges early in the set did little to alter
Mostardi’s focus and he opened a 5-0 lead before putting away the third seed from the Mayfield sectional.
“I was putting a lot more balls in play in the second set, and when you do that, it’s tough to stay in those rallies,” Mostardi said. “You do that, and you start losing focus and it becomes too tough to go after shots. I told myself, ‘I’m not going to go after those shots. I’m just going to hit the ball over the net and let him beat himself.’”
Anzalone, who beat Mostardi in the consolation semifinal at districts last season, lost to Mostardi 6-3, 6-0 during the regular season. But with a state berth already clinched and with the adrenaline worn off from his big win, Mostardi and Anzalone agreed to pass on their rubber match.
“I can’t even walk right now,” Mostardi said. “I’m just going to rest. I’m going to have to take three or four days off from practice before I can train hard.”
Anzalone, who has known Mostardi since he was 10, said the difference between fifth and sixth isn’t that much when it comes to state seeding.
“I would have liked to play one more match, but you know what, there’s no point in Nico possibly getting hurt more than he is,” Anzalone said. “Why strain over something when the hard part’s already done? We’re both going to have to play one seeds at Columbus anyway, and it’s really based on the luck of the draw and not on whether you finished fifth or sixth.”
After Schuette called a couple of close line calls out to end the second set, Anzalone lost his cool a bit. The match was delayed before the third set while cooler heads prevailed and line judges were brought in.
The emotions may have played a part in Schuette opening a 4-1 lead in the third set. But Anzalone fought back with five consecutive wins to clinch his second straight state berth and prevent Schuette from his first.
“It was a good, competitive, emotional match with Vince,” Schuette said. “He just came out on top at the end and played well, especially in that third set.
He stopped missing and stopped making stupid mistakes and I started panicking a little bit.”
Contact Dan Gilles at 329-7135 or firstname.lastname@example.org.