By Justin Sokeland
BEDFORD – Jayden Kemp refuses to acknowledge the passing of time. Whether he accepts it or not, his birth certificate indicates he’s a senior. If he wonders where the years went now, wait until he’s a senior citizen and looks back at the journey.
When he does, he will recall fondly his Senior Night, as Bedford North Lawrence combined that annual celebration for the upperclassmen with a revenge win over Jennings County in the first round of the Hoosier Hills Conference tournament on Monday afternoon.
Reversing a 4-1 loss to the Panthers on Aug. 22, the Stars recorded a turnaround 4-1 victory while advancing to the tournament semifinal against the New Albany-Columbus East winner on Wednesday.
For the five seniors (Kemp, Drew Stephenson, Gavin Baker, Michael Kidd and Houston Haddan) in the program, especially for the three in the lineup, the celebration was sweeter with the victory. The Stars (7-11) swept the singles and recorded an impressive rally at No.2 doubles on their way to the second round.
Kemp had the easiest time on the court. Jennings was forced to juggle its lineup with Parker Bales (normally slotted at No.1 singles) sidelined by injury, and Kemp took advantage with a quick 6-0, 6-0 sweep of Gavin Low. After the emotion of the senior introductions and the mental shift to face a different opponent, Kemp was almost apologetic for his triumph.
“It’s just weird for a Senior Night in general,” Kemp said. “I don’t feel like a senior, I shouldn’t be a senior.”
Baker, on the other hand, had to work for his win, combining with Jackson Corey to post a 7-6 (7-4 in the tiebreaker), 6-0 win over Rider Ruddick and Brady Sentz at No.2 doubles. Baker and Corey trailed 5-1 in the first set before shifting gears after a quick chat with assistant coach Cody East. His message was footwork and aggression.
“That’s exactly what we did,” Baker said. “We started winning, started getting in their heads, and just took the game over. They couldn’t come back after that.”
“That was a great comeback,” BNL coach Chris Kurtz said. “They weren’t able to do things like that earlier in the year. They were able to hold it together mentally when they were down, and they just fought.”
That light-bulb moment was similar to the epiphany that struck Baker when he was a freshman. “Before, I was just playing it for fun,” he said. “Something sparked. I wanted to be varsity. That made me start working hard.” His lesson learned? “Patience is key in everything,” he said.
Stephenson. BNL’s other senior in the rotation, had to settle for the team joy. Jennings posted its only win at No.1 doubles, as Ryan Schuck and Ty Zohrlaut fought off Stephenson and Neal Patel 6-3, 3-6, 7-5.
BNL’s other two points came from Orion Hill (7-5, 6-1 over Isaac Lightner at No.2 singles) and Isaac Bridges (6-2, 6-0 over Cole Skinner at No.3).
“We didn’t play very well that first night (at Jennings),” Kurtz said. “I knew we had more in there. Everybody played their hearts out. I feel really good about where we are right now.”
HOOSIER HILLS CONFERENCE
BNL 4, Jennings County 1
1 Jayden Kemp, BNL d. Gavin Low 6-0, 6-0
2 Orion Hill, BNL d. Issac Lightner 7-5, 6-1
3 Issac Bridges, BNL d. Cole Skinner 6-2, 6-0
1 Ryan Schuck and Ty Zohrlaut, JC d. Drew Stephenson and Neal Patel 6-3, 3-6, 7-5
2 Gavin Baker and Jackson Corey, BNL d. Rider Ruddick and Brady Sentz 7-6 (7-4), 6-0