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Boys tennis: Bulldogs sweep Scarlets

OTTUMWA — One big grunt. One big serve.

One big swig of water from the big Ottumwa High School boys' tennis team's water bucket.

Moses Merrill quenched his thirst after clinching a dominant Iowa Alliance Conference south division sweep of Des Moines East on Tuesday. Merrill clinched a 6-1, 6-0 win over Eh Moo in the No. 5 singles match, securing an 11-0 sweep for the Bulldogs at Jon Kneen Courts paying homage to junior teammate Dominick Rath on his final serve.

"That was the Dominick groan I let out there," Merrill said. "That's the sound he makes when he serves. It was just kind of fun way to close things out."

The final serve and subsequent return that clinched match point closed out a night with very little drama for Ottumwa. Not only did Bulldog players sweep all 11 matches, but did so dropping just 17 of the 149 games played against the winless Scarlets.

"The boys just played good tennis. We were hitting just hitting shots and working on things," Ottumwa head boys tennis coach Joe Roberts said. "In some ways, it was a little bit like practice matches. It was good to get in the ideology of of playing matches and working on some of the things we focused on during practice on Monday."

Ottumwa set the tone immediately for the dual by opening a 4-0 lead over the Scarlets quickly, dropping just two games in the top four doubles matches. With Toby Schmidt sitting out Tuesday's dual nursing a shin contusion, Logan Storto joined Rath to produce a 6-0, 6-0 sweep of Keegan Beattie and Julian Camacho in the top doubles match.

Merrill, meanwhile, joined Josh Shoemaker in a 6-1, 6-0 win over Eddie Hamann and Jayden Khambanoun in the No. 2 doubles match for Ottumwa. Caleb Zeigler and Hayden Palmer also dropped just one game in a sweep of the No. 3 doubles match for the Bulldogs while Marcus Storto and Jaxson Ford clinched a 6-0, 6-1 win of their own in the No. 4 doubles match over Devin Audsley and Logan Craigmile.

"We worked on charging the net and really tried to focus on our movement," Roberts said. "That's what I was looking for out of our doubles. That's one thing we've been struggling on."

Logan and Marcus Storto had bookend wins in singles play for Ottumwa. Logan Storto, moving up to the top singles match, swept Beattie 6-1 and 6-0 while his younger brother secured his second varsity singles win in the No. 6 match with a 6-1, 6-0 sweep of Alex Alvarez.

"I definitely feel like I gained something. The more time on the court you get, the more you can work on your skills," Marcus Storto said. "It's been a lot of fun playing for the tennis team this year."

Zeigler swept through all 12 games of the No. 3 singles match against Hamann while Shoemaker remained unbeaten in singles play with a 6-0, 6-3 win over Khambanoun in the No. 4 match. Rath, moving up to the No. 2 singles match, swept Camacho 6-1 and 6-3 before Merrill used powerful serving to sweep Moo in the final match of the night.

"I hit a lot of second serves, which I've been wanting to work on," Merrill said. "I've been wanting to hit my spin serve a lot more. It's definitely useful, even in the tougher matches. The biggest thing I've been working on is to get out of my head. I've lost tough matches this year because I got in my own head. I just need to focus on going out there, trust my abilities and have some fun."

Ottumwa (3-4, 2-1 Iowa Alliance) hosts Ames on Thursday afternoon starting at 3 p.m. Senior teammates including Schmidt, Shoemaker, Merrill and Jaxon Ford will be honored prior to the dual.

"We have five seniors overall that have made an impression on the younger guys to, hopefully, make them life-long tennis players," Roberts said. "Our juniors really took up that challenge this past summer to train and make us the team we are this year. The hope is they'll be back hitting again this summer. Hopefully, the seniors may come back at times to help teach some of our younger guys so we continue building on a legacy of tennis here in Ottumwa."