Isaiah picks himself up to seal RI's squash win
18-year-old pulls off shock win to send RI's A Division squash boys into ecstasy
Isaiah Yeo was at risk of becoming the villain of the Raffles Institution (RI) A Division Boys' squash team.
In the group stage of the national schools' championships, RI waltzed past their four opponents, winning 5-0 in the first three encounters and beating National Junior College 4-1 in their final match.
That minor blot belonged to Isaiah, and in the semi-finals, he lost once again, as RI squeezed into the championship decider after a 3-2 triumph over Anglo-Chinese School (International).
"We were in the final, but I wasn't feeling very confident because of two straight defeats," said the 18-year-old, yesterday.
"I didn't want to be a liability."
He wasn't, instead ending up the toast of the RI team when he bagged the winning point in the final against Hwa Chong Institution (HCI) at Ngee Ann Polytechnic yesterday.
RI were 2-0 up - teammates Ashley Ong and Ian Liew had established the lead - and on the verge of ending their five-year wait for the title when Isaiah entered the court for the third encounter.
This time, Isaiah was not to be denied, overcoming national youth player Tan Hua Shin 3-2 (16-14, 5-11, 9-11, 11-1, 11-9) to seal the long-awaited title.
The match ended 4-1 in RI's favour, with the last two matches being dead rubbers.
A beaming Isaiah said: "It feels wonderful to redeem myself.
"Hua Shin's a national player, so it couldn't have been any more difficult for me to win. I knew that playing against him was always going to be difficult, so I had to dig inside for every bit of stamina and courage that I had.
"I needed to win really badly.
"I didn't want to let the team down again, so I told myself to be calm, take things slow and steady and concentrate on each point, one at a time."
It was an approach that coach Allan Chang had drilled into him prior to the match.
"I told Isaiah to relax, because he was the underdog based on current form, so I reminded him that he had nothing to lose," said Chang, 56.
"I think it immediately helped him to keep his head, because he knew that there was no pressure on him.
"As a team, we are very proud of Isaiah.
"Any player who delivers against the odds deserves praise."
HCI coach and former Singapore squash great Zainal Abidin, 57, applauded RI's mental toughness.
He said: "When a match ends at 3-0 that quickly, there is nothing much you can do. It just goes to show which was the better team.
"I think my boys felt a little bit of the pressure from the crowd, which was a full capacity of RI and HCI students, so I guess RI's players handled that aspect better."
NATIONAL SCHOOLS' A DIVISION BOYS' SQUASH RESULTS, FINAL FOUR
- Champions: Raffles Institution
- Runner-up: Hwa Chong Institution
- Third: National Junior College
- Fourth: Anglo-Chinese School (Independent)