After breaking his ankle seven weeks ago, Connor Bruce is happy to be playing tennis again.
So is his teammate, Elian Ascencio, who had been filling in the No. 1 singles slot for for the Peters Township tennis team, which won a section title and is seeded fourth in the WPIAL tournament.
“He stepped up to the plate, which was really heroic of him to do,” Bruce said of the sophomore Ascencio. “He’s really grown as a player and as a teammate. I’m really happy for him and happy to be back.”
Admitting that there was “definitely a decent amount of pressure” filling Bruce’s shoes, Ascencio though held his own as he played side-by-side with the two-time district singles finalists during the WPIAL Class AAA doubles championships played April 30 at the Oxford Athletic Club in Wexford.
The tandem finished runner-up to the top-seeded duo from Shady Side Academy. In capturing their second straight title, Naman Dua and Colin Gramley dispatched Bruce and Ascencio in straight sets, 6-4, 6-3.
“It didn’t go our way but give credit to them,” Bruce said. “They played really well and attacked. We had our opportunities but fell a little short.”
Bruce and Ascencio fell behind, 5-2, in the first set but rebounded to narrow the gap to 5-4 before Dua and Gramley held service to win the set. PT took the lead in the second set, 3-2, but the Shady Side pair won the final four games to win the championship.
“Return of serves as a team and not closing out points at the net,” Ascencio and Bruce said led to their demise.
The duo, however, were not discouraged.
In fact, right after their final match, they practiced in preparation for their PIAA tournament appearance, which will occur May 24-25 in Hershey.
Until the finals, serves and other things clicked for Bruce and Ascencio.
After beating Mason Harbaugh and Aidan Kelly of Hempfield, 10-2, and Jared Nord and Milo Baron from Fox Chapel, 10-7, in the opening rounds, Bruce and Ascenzio defeated Jay Kashyap and Brandon Wei of Fox Chapel, 6-0, 6-2, in the semifinals.
“Their quarterfinal match was tough but that was good for them to face a little adversity and see that they could pull through,” said PT coach Brandt Bowman. “They played really well in the semifinal and won decisively.
“But doubles always comes down to serving and returning. No. 1 you have to protect your serve and win those games. Who serves the best and returns the best will win.”
Bruce and Ascencio did well in the district tournament and should fare well in the PIAA Championships because of their personalities.
According to Bowman, Ascencio is laid back and calm while Bruce gets fired up.
“They counteract each other and that ends up being a good combination,” he said.
Additionally, their style of play favored their success. Ascencio is solid from the baseline and Bruce is an aggressive doubles player.
“For them ... to do well is for Elian to be steady and solid, get his first serves in and let Connor do his thing because he likes to move around. He can control the net and overpower opponents,” Bowman said.
Now, Bruce and Ascencio hope to help the Indians overpower the team competition.
After winning a section title with an 8-0 record, Peters Township is seeded No. 4 in the WPIAL Class AAA team tournament. The Indians have lost only two matches this season — to top-seeded Fox Chapel and Allderdice, which upset them in last year’s tournament, too.
“We were the No. 2 seed last year,” said Bruce. “When Allderdice beat us that hurt, so our guys are hungry to get back. We all have to do our thing out there. We all have a role on the team.
“If we all step up to the plate, then we shouldn’t have an issue of going deep and qualifying for states if not winning WPIALs this year.”
The Indians as well as Upper St. Clair and Mt. Lebanon stepped up and won their first-round matches. While PT and Lebo blanked Central Catholic and Penn-Trafford, 5-0, respectively, USC edged Sewickley Academy, 3-2.
In the May 7th quarterfinals, PT hosts Franklin Regional, USC travels to top-seeded Fox Chapel and Lebo visits No. 2 Shady Side Academy.
The WPIAL team championships are scheduled for May 8. The top three teams advance to the PIAA team tournament scheduled to start May 14 and conclude May 17-18 at Hershey Racquet Club.