Thomas Jefferson's Mascaro advances to WPIAL singles finals
Jake Mascaro didn't have his best service game working when he took the court at Keystone Oaks for the WPIAL Class AA singles tournament.
What the senior didn't have on his serve, however, he more than made up for with sheer tenacity and athleticism as the Thomas Jefferson senior pulled off a pair of upsets, including a 6-1, 6-2 win over third-seeded Bargo Patel of Greensburg Central Catholic in the semifinals, to become the first Jaguars singles player to qualify for the WPIAL finals since Scott Kahler won the Class AAA championship in 2003.
”I didn't know that, but it feels great,” Mascaro said. “It's better than anything I could have imagined. I didn't expect to get this far, but I played through it all and I'm excited for the finals.”
Mascaro, who also earned a spot in the PIAA Class AA finals May 24-25 at Hershey Racquet Club, will play fourth-seeded sophomore Derek Chen of Vincentian — who outlasted No. 1 Matt Lynch of Bentworth, 6-7 (2-7), 6-4, 6-0, in the other semifinal — in the WPIAL Class AA championship match at 2:30 p.m. Tuesday at North Allegheny.
“What I see is that he has got to really be patient because (Chen) can hit better ground strokes than what he has been seeing and, on top of that, he's got to improve his first-serve percentages,” Thomas Jefferson tennis coach Chuck Correll said. “I think he can totally unravel everybody here because of his mental toughness.”
Getting to this point is a dramatic improvement for Mascaro, who was eliminated in the Section 5 quarterfinals in 2012. This year he easily won the sectional and went into the WPIAL tournament as the No. 7 seed.
“His net play is better, his overheads are better, his ground strokes are relentless and he's just so fast,” Correll said. “The thing about him is that he's an athlete as much as he's a tennis player. His opponents think that they're winning a point and, there were a couple of drop shots that his opponent thought he had, and (Mascaro) gets them because he's so fast and he has such long reach.”
His ability to frustrate an opponent by getting to balls that his foe thought were easy winners was readily apparent in his quarterfinal pro-set match against No. 2 Cody Schrecongost of Valley. Schrecongost regularly used cut-volleys and drop shots near the net in the thought there was no way Mascaro would get to the ball, but more often than not he made a return and set up a winner.
“My serve was really hurting me, but it was a game of stamina and keeping the ball in play, waiting for him to make mistakes and trying to come to the net when I could,” Mascaro said. “I was barely getting to the ball, trying to keep it in and, if I got a good approach shot off of it, I would stay at the net, but otherwise I was just going back to the baseline and played my game from back there.”
In the semifinal, Patel came out and broke serve in the first game, then lost the next six as Mascaro rolled to an easy win in the first set. Mascaro also led 5-1 in the second set before dropping a game and finally closed it out on serve to move into the finals.
And he already has a strategy in mind for when he faces Chen.
“I think I'm going to use more of a spin serve and try to get that in so they can't capitalize on the second serve as much,” Mascaro said. “I really just have to have faith in my second serve because, when I hit it too easy and try to just get it in, that's when it goes into the net.”