It was a night to remember for Huddersfield Lawn Tennis and Squash Club as they clinched the Kirklees and Calderdale Racketball League title with a win over second-placed Phoenix.
Both sides went head to head on a night of high drama to try and win the top prize. HLTSC entered the evening knowing that a strong win with a minimum 10 point gap would seal the league title.
With three points at stake per player and a bonus three points for the overall win, it was a challenging ask given the quality of the opposition,
Phoenix sat second in the league and whilst they had a game in hand, if HLTSC could secure the win and gain enough points it would make the chase too much for Phoenix to make up.
A good crowd turned up in anticipation, as some of top players, not only in Kirklees but at a UK level from both teams arrived for a mouthwatering climax to the long season. Both teams had a number of injuries but HLTSC has a large pool of racquetball talent from which to select a team.
First match: Paul Haigh (HLTSC) vs Gary Culverwell.
Culverwell started the match strongly keeping neck and neck with Haigh. However, it was the HLTSC player who sneaked in the final few points of the first game to take it 11-8. Both players played some really great shots with long rallies and particularly crafty drop shots from Haigh. Haigh took the second and third games by a comfortable margin 11-4, 11-1.
This put Huddersfield 3-0 up on the night ahead of the second match.
Second match: Neil Baldwin (HLTSC) vs Dan Colbeck.
Colbeck had youth on his side, but it was Baldwin’s years of match experience that got him off to a flyer with some tight play on all four corners. Colbeck couldn’t quite find his touch early on as Baldwin quickly led 8-1 in the first game.
As Colbeck started to find his shots, Baldwin was equal to the task, with lung bursting rallies. Baldwin took the first game 11-4.
The second game was in a similar vein, with Baldwin gaining a 9-3 lead only for Colbeck to pull it back to 9-7, but Baldwin closed it out 11-8.
In the third game it was the younger Colbeck who looked stronger early on, gaining a 3-6 lead, but the guile of Baldwin came through with some amazing shot selections, including playing an outrageous winner through his legs. Baldwin took the third match 11-8.
So with both Baldwin and Haigh winning 3-0, that gave HLTSC a 6-0 lead but also guaranteed them the three bonus points making it 9-0 ahead of the crunch decider. At this stage all was going better than could have been expected.
Third match: Mark Francis (HLTSC) vs David Lord
The number one seeded match was Mark Francis against an old friend from Phoenix, David Lord, both of who are highly accomplished players.
Francis knew he had to win his best of five matches, nothing else would do, or keep his captain Ian Smith happy!
The crowd were amazed by the quality that had already been on show in the first two matches, but this one had even more.
Francis set off like all the HLTSC team did at a rapid pace, racing to a 10-1 lead, maybe home advantage helped all three of the Huddersfield players.
Lord then started to get more into the groove with Francis taking his foot off the pedal with such a commanding lead. Francis took the first game 11-4.
Francis was really playing some of the best racquetball he’s ever played in a competitive match. Tight and lengthy rallies led to it being 6-6 in the second game at one stage, However Francis broke the deadlock and had a run of five points to take the second game 11-6.
The third game was a classic with both players on the limit of what is humanly possible retrieving shots from the front and back of the court. Some amazing drops from Francis was probably the difference between the two but game points went both ways with Francis taking it 14-12 after a number of amazing rallies.
That 3-0 win by Francis meant that the HLTSC team had kept a clean sheet on the night winning 12-0, meaning the title was theirs.
Francis and Baldwin have been revelations this year, both unbeaten all season. However special praise must also go to Dan Lawton who won 70% of his matches and Keith Campbell who won all four of his.
Representing TEAM HLTSC this year: Dan Lawton, Mark Francis, Neil Baldwin, Ian Smith (captain), Paul Haigh, Ben Emery, Keith Campbell, Mike Coombes, David Sykes, James Ramsden, James Smith, Ben Oldroyd and Janak Malkani.