EAST LYME — Stonington senior Jake Stiger battled against defending ECC tennis tournament champion Finn Power of East Lyme, but ultimately fell Thursday afternoon in a match closer than the 6-2, 6-0 score would indicate.
The two traded games to 3-2 in the first set, with Stiger scoring by varying his tactics from earlier matchups against the top-seeded Power.
However, Stonington coach John Adriano said that a player of Power's caliber typically adjusts, which he did by winning nine straight games for his second straight ECC title.
“We tried to mix it up a bit, and it worked for a few points, but Finn is a very consistent player,” he said. “He keeps the ball in play and he doesn't make many unforced errors. He only hit two or three balls the whole match into the net.”
While Stiger struggled to win points, he was successful in making Power work for everything he got, with consistent 10- and 12-stroke rallies between them during the 75-minute match.
“There were a lot of 10-, 12-shot points, and the consistency, he's frustrating to play because he doesn't blow anybody off the court,” Adriano said of Power. “He just stays out there and waits for you to give him the point.”
Down 5-2 in the first set, Stiger, the No. 3 seed, battled to deuce, and only lost the set after a prolonged rally and a perfectly placed lob volley over his head.
In the regular season, Power defeated Stiger, 6-1, 6-1, and he only lost five games in four matches en route to the final. Stiger said it was Power's precision, especially on deep forehands and lobs, that sets him apart.
“He can hit any kind of shot, and it'll be five feet from the baseline, and you can't do anything with it. It's really frustrating,” he said. “I thought I played pretty good. I was hitting everything hard, but he was just getting it back, and I couldn't do much with his shots.”
In the second set, Power consistently kept Stiger at bay, despite a worsening, bloody hand injury. He told tournament officials that he had cut it early in the match while opening a can of tennis balls. He had to provide fist-bumps at the end of the tournament as a result, instead of the customary handshakes.
The match ended much like the first set. With Power holding a 40-15 advantage on match point, he finished a sustained rally with a lob over Stiger as he tried to press and attack.
Adriano said he was proud of how Stiger played, pointing out the fight he put up against Power and the success he has had at Stonington.
“Jake has played No. 1 for us three out of his four years,” Adriano said. “He's been a good, solid performer for four years, and he works at it in the offseason. He can play tennis at school.”
With the ECC final behind him, Stiger (20-2) said his focus is now on the Class S state tournament, which begins Friday at Conard High.
“I feel pretty good,” he said, laughing when asked if he was fatigued. “I played five sets yesterday, so I'll be fine tomorrow.”