2016 Florida Pro-Am: Late Season Sizzle

FL 2016 IRT#2 Rocky Carson came back from an 0-2 hole to defeat #4 Daniel De La Rosa 5-11, 7-11, 11-8, 11-4, 11-1 to win the 2016 Florida IRT Pro-Am Championship for his third title in the 2015-2016 IRT season. 

2016 Florida IRT Pro-Am Draw

Championship Final

#2 Rocky Carson d #4 Daniel De La Rosa 5-11, 7-11, 11-8, 11-4, 11-1

#2 Rocky Carson met #4 Daniel De La Rosa in a very important Florida IRT Pro-Am Championship Final. With top ranked Kane Waselenchuk’s Round of 16s injury forfeit in the fifth game on Friday and Carson’s win over #3 Alvaro Beltran in the semifinals, both Carson and De La Rosa can chip away at their deficits in the rankings with a win tonight. This is the third time this season that the two have played. De La Rosa won in the semifinals at The 2015 US Open and Carson won their most recent exchange in the semifinals at The Raising Some Racquet for Kids in Ohio. 

Carson’s four game semifinal against Beltran earlier in the day directly contrasted De La Rosa’s three game match against Sebastian Franco. Carson needed two hours in his victory over Beltran while De La Rosa beat Franco with relative ease. How big of a factor would Carson’s semifinal match play in tonight’s final?

De La Rosa started the match in the service box and went up 2-0. Carson tied the match at 2-2 and then 4-4 with an ace. Both De La Rosa and Carson looked good early and were tied at 5-5. De La Rosa started playing kill shot racquetball instead of Carson’s game of rally racquetball and went on a run punctuated by an ace to take a 9-5 lead. Carson took a timeout. De La Rosa came back from the timeout and took game one 11-5.

Carson and De La Rosa exchanged side outs and rallies for a few minutes in the second game before there was a score. Carson jumped out to an early 2-0 lead. Game two seemed to be at a slower pace and more about rallies. De La Rosa took a timeout with the score tied 5-5. Like game one, De La Rosa came back strong from the timeout to take an 8-5 lead. Carson scored back-to-back points to make it 7-8. De La Rosa forced a side out and like game one turned it on late in the game to take a 2-0 lead. De La Rosa fended off Carson’s late run and took game two 11-7.

Carson started game three with an early 3-1 lead before De La Rosa tied it at 3-3. Carson tied the game back up at 5-5 after slowing down the pace with his methodical racquetball. Carson hit an ace serve to make it 7-5 before the momentum shifted a little back towards De La Rosa who tied the game back up at 7-7. At 8-8, De La Rosa fended off Carson in a long rally before Carson killed the ball bottom right corner to go up 9-8. Carson closed out game three 11-8 to force a game four down 2-1.

Carson continued that momentum after he won game three to start game four on a 7-0 run. De La Rosa sided out but couldn’t do anything while in the service box. He finally got on the board in the fourth game 1-8. Equipment timeout. De La Rosa scored three straight points to make it 4-9. Carson finished game four 11-4 to force the fifth game tiebreaker.

Early in game five De La Rosa looked frustrated and fatigued as Carson took a 3-0 lead. De La Rosa didn’t look to have an answer for Carson as the match moved toward the two-hour mark. Carson made the fourth game 5-0 with his fifth ace serve of the match. De La Rosa continued to miss shots that he had made early in the match as Carson continued to grow his lead. De La Rosa scored his first point of the game 1-8. Carson showed how crucial conditioning and fitness is with his fifth game performance. De La Rosa challenged a two-bounce call late in the match that IRT Referee Matt Majxner overturned. The crowd in Sarasota made it known they thought it was two bounces as well and De La Rosa was clearly not happy with the call either. Majxner gave De La Rosa a technical to make it 1-10. Carson came back from a 0-2 hole to win three straight games to beat De La Rosa with an 11-1 fifth game.

Semifinals

#4 De La Rosa d #9 Sebastian Franco 11-8, 11-4, 11-6

De La Rosa has come out 2-1 in their previous matches, but Sebastian Franco took the most recent, at the 2015 Krowning Moment and Bobcat Open when Franco won in the tiebreaker in the opening round. In game one this weekend, De La Rosa took an early lead until, at 9-5, Franco positioned a comeback with drive serves dialing into the same sharp placement as Andy Hawthorne [retired pro] but with more power, according to John Scott on the IRT Network.

Franco reached 6-9 with a backhand drive served that tied De La Rosa in the corner. As he tried to tie things up late, Franco had De La Rosa executing multiple dives, including the one that ended the rally on a skip. The next extended rally had the full house of fans onsite and online buzzing about the level of racquetball as Franco managed to come within three points with backhand drives and cross court passes passing De La Rosa until the #4-ranked pro used his body to block out Franco and earned the serve, the next rally, and the game, 11-8.

In game 2 Franco scored first, and again after De La Rosa jumped vertically but couldn’t avoid the hinder. A Franco skip at 2-0 put De La Rosa in the box for the offensive and a string of rallies, as the #4 player kept Franco out of position and created “routine” kill shot opportunities and a 3-2 lead. The two exchanged serves and rallies before De La Rosa’s flashy backhand pinch put him up 7-3. In a departure from his usual power-shooter game, De La Rosa demonstrated control racquetball for a 5-point lead at 8-3. Franco took a timeout, but after the two players returned it seemed a few quick rallies put an end to the game in De La Rosa’s favor, 11-4, and up two in the match.

Game 3

After a tight start, De La Rosa earned a 3-2 lead by pounding the ball into the corners. After De La Rosa pinched overhead with a forehand angle that also blocked Franco in the backcourt, he had a run of the kind of control, focus, and touch left no question how he reached a 7-point lead. But at 9-2, Franco started to fight back with a long rally that ended in the front with De La Rosa’s soft backhand skip. Down 6-9 forty-eight minutes into the game, Franco’s wide pass gave De La Rosa the serve, but Franco wasn’t out yet as he threw his body around the court to keep the rally going, but not long enough. De La Rosa took game 3 and the match at 11-6.

#2 Rocky Carson d #3 Alvaro Beltran 10-12, 11-8, 11-5, 11-6

In a repeat of the Raising Some Racquet for Kids IRT ProAm in Huber Heights, Ohio #2-ranked Rocky Carson and #3-ranked Alvaro Beltran met for the 44th time in their careers. Carson enjoys a 23-20 match advantage in their head-to-head record. In the second semifinal in Florida, Carson pulled ahead 5-2. Beltran clawed back, reaching 8-9 and striking distance, 22 minutes into game. The deceivingly even keel of play masked the intensity. Carson’s cross court return on Beltran’s forehand lob gave Carson the second chance at game point. Beltran killed the return. Again, Beltran served a high lob, forcing Rocky to hit high for an easy return and a point. At 9-10 Beltran served the start of a ceiling rally which he broke first by going low, eventually winning to tie the game at 10-10, en route to a 12-10 win with a down-the-line pass that cracked in the corner.

In game two, Carson took an early lead, 3-0, but Beltran climbed back to tie at 3-3 and 4-4 by consistently flattening the ball with good clean lines alternating with soft hands. Carson’s game was on as well, tying the score at 5-5 before pulling ahead 8-5. Beltran took a timeout, and came back to tie the score at 8-8. Carson took a timeout. Beltran created opportunities by keeping Carson moving and forcing unconventional shots. It was Carson’s textbook splat shot that sent Beltran diving. He missed. Carson earned the serve and the next three points for the win, 11-8.

Several rallies into the third game with the score still tied at 0 and 70 minutes into the match, Carson appealed a ball as a skip. He won, score still 0-0. Carson scored first, but Beltran almost immediately tied it at 1-1. At 1-3, Beltran wanted a screen or hinder call, but didn’t get it as he’d pinned Carson behind him before the skipped shot. Carson served at 3-1 before again the two exchanged rallies and serves but not points, as each kept the other on the move and forcing great shots to end rallies. Equipment timeout. The slow slog ahead continued as Carson raised his lead, 5-3 and then 6-3 with a big overhand backhand splat that died in the front. Neither player gave up on a ball. Beltran fought back 5-6, but started to get frustrated. Down 5-7, he opened the door to have words with the ref. At 5-8 he hit the ball post-rally, getting a technical warning. At 5-9, Beltran took a timeout. Carson kept up the pressure, winning the game 11-5, for a 2-1 lead in the match.

In game 4, Carson took a 2-1 lead, but Beltran quickly tied the score at 2-2 before pulling ahead, 5-3. Carson’s turn to tie the score at 5-5. All indications pointed to another long game for the fans. Carson broke the tie by forcing Beltran to the back right corner before pinching the ball in front. Carson pulled further ahead until at 8-5, Beltran took a timeout. After their return, Carson scored nine with a wall-skimming down-the-line pass that left Beltran slack footed and shaking his head. Not for long, as Carson skipped the next down-the-line to send Beltran back in the box. He couldn’t convert until a couple of rallies later when he stemmed the tide to score 6-9. But he couldn’t maintain the momentum, and Carson put the ball down in a backhand splat two-inches from the floor for 10-6, and then on for the win 11-6.

Quarterfinals

#2 Rocky Carson d #7 Markie Rojas 11-1, 11-9, 11-1

The #2 IRT pro stepped into the first quarterfinal match with a 12-0 lead over the #7-ranked player. Extended rallies marked the first game, as the players batted the ball back-and-forth exchanging rallies and the serve until Carson found the key and pulled ahead, 6-1 when Marco Rojas took a timeout. It didn’t help change Carson’s momentum. Rojas managed to win a few rallies, but not points, losing on a skip, 1-11.

In game two Rojas took an early 3-0 lead, and then in reverse of game one took a 6-1 lead. Carson challenged a serve as short and won, forcing a second serve before winning the resulting rally for the serve and a point. Again the two started exchanging rallies for Carson’s serve at 2-7 when he started to pull back and ahead, 9-7. Rojas didn’t let up, tying at 9-9 but Carson pulled ahead for the win, 11-9.

Again Rocky Carson took the lead in Game three, 4-0. With flashes of fight and yet big skips at bad times, Rojas struggled to score. Carson took game 3, 11-1, for the match. 

#9 Sebastian Franco d #16 Jake Bredenbeck 12-10, 7-11, 11-9, 11-5

Two Reaching Your Dreams Foundation athletes met for the first time in their careers. Sebastian Franco, after a 4-game match against Felipe Comacho, stepped into the fifth quarterfinal of his career, all during the 2015-2016 IRT season. Jake Bredenbeck had defeated Kane Waselenchuk in the Round of 16s, when Waselenchuk (who withdrew from the Raising Some Racquet for Kids IRT ProAm in Ohio four weeks prior for emergency back surgery), forfeited in the fifth game of their match citing an injury. In the quarterfinals, Bredenbeck and Franco came out firing, with a deliberate playing style that favored serve-return-kill rallies over extended play. Each matched drive serves with power returns to keep the score close, but after 20 minutes Franco came out ahead, 12-10.

The two returned to the court for the second game, where both seemed to leave the ball up for more extended rallies than in the first game. Bredenbeck came out ahead, firing to a 5-0 and then 8-2 lead, perhaps re-capturing momentum gained after defeating Rocky Carson in The Shamrock Shootout IRT ProAm in March and Waselenchuk earlier in the day. Franco held on, pushing back 5-10. Bredenbeck served for game point six times, but just couldn’t put it down as Franco tested his opponent’s resolve, continuing to fight back. At 10-7, Bredenbeck won the game at 11-7, to tie the match at one game each.

Franco served first in the third game, and both played tight until Franco pulled away 5-1. Bredenbeck’s larger size didn’t deter his quick movements and hands, as he continued to fight back 4-7, 5-9, 8-10. Set up for a ball off of the sidewall, Franco had the chance to stop Bredenbeck’s run, but skipped, and then took a timeout. He finished the game when they returned, taking an 11-9 win for the lead in the match.

Game four saw Franco’s early 2-0 lead fade under Bredenbeck’s onslaught, as he dove for a blistering passing shot after watching a wrap-around ricochet past. Bredenbeck tied the score at three and continued by, before Franco tied it up, 5-5. That was as far as Bredenbeck got. Franco powered away for an 11-5 win in the third game and to take a hard-fought match.

#3 Alvaro Beltran d #11 Mario Mercado 11-2, 11-7, 11-7

The third quarterfinal of the evening in Sarasota at The Florida IRT Pro-Am was a rematch of the Round of 16s at The St. Louis Pro Racquetball Winter Rollout. Last November in the first half of the season Mario Mercado was the victor over Alvaro Beltran winning in four. Mercado entered this match against Beltran after advancing through Thursday’s pro qualifying and after he upset Jansen Allen in the Round of 16s. Could the young Reaching Your Dream Foundation player continue his run and advance to Saturday’s semifinals?

Beltran jumped out to an early 5-1 lead in game one. Mercado took a timeout at 2-7 to try to slow down Beltran’s momentum. The timeout was smart but did not have the effect Mercado was looking for. Mercado looked slow and a little of out of it and Beltran didn’t let up any ground and took game one 11-2 with ease.

Game two started with Beltran up 2-0. Back to back skips for Beltran on what looked like easy kills brought Mercado back to the service box where he evened the game 2-2. Game two in contrast to game one was a lot closer but Beltran kept his foot on the gas from 6-4 on. Mercado looked to be making a comeback bringing the score to 7-10. Beltran took game two 11-7 and a 2-0 lead in the match.

Mercado jumped out to a 3-1 lead in game three. Beltran built up his lead to 7-4. Mercado started making his shots and started gaining confidence and got back into the game to tie it 7-7. Beltran being the veteran he is closed out the match 11-7.

#4 Daniel De La Rosa d #5 Jose Rojas 11-8, 11-5, 11-7

Ace Daniel De La Rosa as he started the match up 4-1. Jose Rojas fought back and took the lead at 6-4. The first game saw multiple lead changes as Rojas lead 8-6 before De La Rosa tied it 8-8. Rojas took a timeout at 8-9 before De La Rosa rallied off for the game one win 11-8.

De La Rosa kept the momentum he had at the end of game one and jumped to a 4-2 lead in game two. Rojas took a timeout down 3-5. De La Rosa looked comfortable through out the game and dominated the rest of the way, leading 9-4 and taking the game 11-5.

De La Rosa started game three with a lot of intensity to end the match in three games rather then go to five. De La Rosa once again took an early 4-2 lead before Rojas tied it at 4-4. De La Rosa went on an unanswered run and went up 10-5 before Rojas started chipping away. De La Rosa took game three 11-7 to win the match and claim the final spot in Saturday’s semifinals.

Round of 16s  

Rocky Carson d Andree Parrilla 11-5, 11-4, 11-6

Markie Rojas d Robert Collins 11-9, 11-3, 11-1

Jake Bredenbeck d Kane Waselenchuk 4-11, 11-13, 11-9, 12-10, 1-0 Injury WBF

In his first match since his emergency incarcerated hernia surgery on March 31, Kane Waselenchuk forfeited the match due to injury after a couple of rallies in the fifth game. Before the start of the fifth game he had used an injury timeout for the second time after using it towards the end of game four.

Sebastian Franco d Felipe Camacho 11-5, 11-7, 5-11, 11-7

Alvaro Beltran d Alejandro Herrera 12-10, 11-9, 9-11, 11-3

Mario Mercado d Jansen Allen 10-12, 11-7, 11-2, 11-5

Jose Rojas d Mauricio Zelada 11-1, 11-6, 11-9

Daniel De La Rosa d Cliff Swain 11-7, 11-8, 11-3

Round of 32s

Jake Bredenbeck d Troy Warigon 11-7, 11-2, 11-1

Sebastian Franco d David Stincer 11-0, 11-1, 11-2

Cliff Swain d Charlie Pratt 11-9, 11-5, 11-9

Alejandro Herrera d Matthew Majxner 11-1, 11-6, 11-7

Mario Mercado d Destry Everhart 11-6, 11-5, 11-4

Robert Collins d Jonathan Burns 11-3, 4-11, 3-11, 11-5, 11-3

Andree Parrilla d Scott McClellan 11-6, 11-3, 11-2

Mauricio Zelada d Maurice Miller 7-11, 11-8, 11-8, 11-7

Round of 64s

David Stincer d Robert Hemphill 9-11, 11-9, 11-8, 5-11, 11-7

Maurice Miller d Kevin Vazquez 11-7, 10-12, 11-8, 5-11, 12-10

Cliff Swain d Wesley Miller 11-1, 11-4, 11-5

Alejandro Herrera d Nick Hand 13-11, 11-9, 11-1

Destry Everhart d Joe Delfino 12-10, 11-9, 3-11, 11-4

Jonathan Burns d Matt Fontana 11-6, 11-7, 11-8

Sebastian Franco, Mauricio Zelada, Mario Mercado, Maurice Miller, Troy Warigon, Robert Collins and Jake Bredenbeck are this weekend’s Reaching Your Dream Foundation Athletes in Sarasota at The Florida IRT Pro-Am. 

2016 Florida Pro-Am: Late Season Sizzle

As the season turns the corner into the homestretch of play, the pros are jockeying for the all-important end-of-year ranking positions. The backdrop of the next proving ground will be in sunny warm Sarasota, Florida. Top players in the world will take to the courts for the second annual Florida IRT Pro/Am, April 28 to May 1. The Sarasota YMCA will be the stage for many of these important story lines. The contest for ranking position is tight, with three tournaments left and #1 Kane Waselenchuk recovering from emergency incarcerated hernia surgery.

Tournament Director Chad Bailey, who is also president of the Florida Racquetball Association, said there is a lot of excitement surrounding the event. “A lot of people in the Florida Racquetball Association want to see this event happen; it has a really good buzz right now.” Bailey is taking the helm of his second Tier 1 Event. “We like the event in Florida and wanted it to remain. When the slot became available, I didn’t want to see it go away.” For many tournament directors, the decision to put on such a large event ultimately comes down to why. “I could see that people in the (racquetball) community were interested. My main goal is to grow the sport. That has always been my main goal, and it is not about the money.”

Much of Bailey’s sentiment symbolizes the ethos of the racquetball culture in Florida. “We have a tight-knit core of players. Our ties to each other extend outside the racquetball court as well. We’re friends as well as competitors.” Although Florida is no stranger to the IRT, this event hopes to reboot and reinvigorate that storied bond.

The Sarasota YMCA is a large complex. Bailey believes that due to the club’s size it will expose a lot of non-racquetball players to the event. There are six glass-wall-back courts in a line, which will makes it easy for fans to peruse matches freely during the qualifiers. There is also upstairs viewing. The championship court bleachers allow for more than 250 fans to watch the action. In addition, a live feed from The IRT Network will be projected in other parts of the club. Plus, players and sponsors will be able to mingle and relax in the VIP lounge. There is also an off-site overflow club to help manage the demand of players. The tournament is expected to have more than 150 amateur participants, exhibiting marked growth from last year.

The Florida IRT ProAm carries a lot of weight in terms of ranking, with highly contested positions at a late point in the 2015-2016 IRT season. The battle for the top between #1 Kane Waselenchuk and #2 Rocky Carson has tightened to 607 points as Waselenchuk recovers from surgery. Carson leads with 1,150 points over #3 Alvaro Beltran, who has a 50 point advantage over #4, Daniel De La Rosa. #5 Jose Rojas, De La Rosa, and others will continue their race for world #1 for years to come, but the old guard of Beltran, Carson and Waselenchuk stand in their way, at least for now.

Florida results will also be important to the 9 and 10 spots, which show room for movement. Robert Collins, Sebastian Franco, Mario Mercado and Charlie Pratt will battle it out for the prestigious end of the year top 10. Also, local Florida favorite, Mike Harmon, will play. He is known as one of the best regional players, and capable of upsetting top names. Racquetball fans can look forward to an exciting season’s end.

Sarasota boasts some of the hottest nightlife and tourist hubs in the country along with warm weather, top-grade restaurants, shops, and nightclubs all within minutes of the YMCA. Countless sponsors large and small made this event possible, including top supporters like the Florida Racquetball Association and The Sarasota Sports Commission, Mike Ammen and the Ammen Family Funeral. Without supporters such as the Ammen family, this event would not happen.

Chad Bailey says that some of his best memories from the 2015 Florida IRT Pro/Am come during and after the Saturday night final. Both the IRT final and all amateur finals will conclude Saturday night immediately followed by a big party in the large Team Center at the YMCA. “It was great to see all the pros dancing and playing ping pong at the party. The local fans love having the chance to talk with their favorite players. I think they often want to talk more about their personal lives than racquetball.”

Florida will prove to be an exciting arena for what has been one of the most competitive seasons in recent memory. In a sport where the year-end rankings are the most coveted prize, six of the top 10 positions could all change. On the hinge of one tournament, one match and possibly one swing of a racquet, the rankings could look a lot different come May 2.

By Tim Prigo

IRT Writer, Tim Prigo, is a lifelong racquetball enthusiast who competed in his first tournament at ten years old in Claremont, California, where he grew up. Since then, Tim has played in many IRT events, ranking among the top 40 at his best. He earned a B.A. in English Literature and Philosophy from Franklin Pierce University in 2009, where he spent many years abroad, traveling, and studying. In addition to regularly contributing stories and match recaps for the IRT, Tim is an aspiring poet and sports journalist. He also is the club pro at Lloyd Athletic in Portland, Oregon, where he now resides.

Media Coverage

Rocky Carson uses endurance to win Florida IRT Pro-Am via Bradenton Herald

Community sports | Racquetball’s best come to Sarasota for Florida IRT Pro-Am via Bradenton Herald