Advertisement

Royal(s) Rumble: Rose Hill duos advance to region final; Tomcats eye singles championships

May 15—ASHLAND — The 16th Region tennis tournament progressed through the semifinal round on Tuesday night, but one school guaranteed itself a region title.

The girls doubles final will feature a pair of Rose Hill teams, ensuring that one of the Royal duos will be crowned champions.

"I'm so proud of these girls," Rose Hill coach David Bush said. "They've played incredibly hard all year."

In the first semifinal match of the evening, defending 16th Region champions Isabel Hensley and Abigail Justus defeated Ashland's Reagan Hayes and Isabella Mayhorn in straight sets (7-5, 6-0).

"We started a little slow," Hensley said. "But we were able to come back and just really play well together. We have really good chemistry."

Her teammate couldn't agree more.

"When we did make mistakes, we just kept each other up," Justus said. "We wouldn't let each other get down. We just kept encouraging each other and it got us through."

In the second semifinal matchup, Jewell Stanley and Carmen Callaway went up against the duo of Bella Quinn and Anna Derscha, the No. 1 seeds.

"Jewel and Carmen have always been our second team behind Abbi and Izzy," Bush said. "But I've told them if they play well, they can beat anybody. They were happy to win the quarterfinal game earlier, just to make it to state, but I told them, you two can keep going here. I just kept driving that home and I guess they believed it."

Whatever their coach said must've worked, as the duo battled neck and neck with the Russell pair in both sets.

Stanley and Callaway trailed 4-3 in the second set, before rallying for three straight games to get the 6-4 victory after taking the opening set, 7-5.

As Stanley and Callaway's match was still in progress, Hensley and Justus hoped for an all-Royal final.

"We want it to be our girls," Hensley said. "We'd love for it to be two Rose Hill teams in the end."

"Plus, if we both make it, our coach said he'd dye his beard blue," Justus added.

When asked how they felt about the championship matchup, both girls had the same word come to mind at the same time.

"Excited!" both said simultaneously, still in sync from being on the court.

As the match progressed and the result came into focus, both girls understood what was at stake.

"We knew we had to do it," Stanley said. "Every point mattered."

"You don't really focus on the game itself," Callaway said. "It's just about each point."

And now with the inter-team matchup set for the region title, both teams are ready to go to battle.

"No matter who it is, we always want to play to the best of our abilities," Hensley said. "We're going to go out there and give it all we've got."

"I feel like our mindset right now is to keep doing better than we did the last match," Justus added. "We just have to keep our momentum moving upwards."

Stanley and Callaway know it'll be an intense battle when the two teams meet.

"We play each other a lot in practice," Stanley said. "It's usually pretty close there so it should be a really good game either way."

When it comes to coaching the matchup, Bush had a simple philosophy.

"Just don't," Bush said with a laugh. "That's the strategy, I won't be coaching either one. I'll let them go at it, battle it out, and see who comes out."

The strategy will work out well for Bush, who will spend his time focusing on the girls singles championship game after a semifinal win by last year's region runner-up Laken Deerfield.

"She's been playing really well," Bush said of Deerfield. "She's been working extremely hard this season and I'm proud of her effort. I'll be with her on Thursday and hopefully see her get the win."

Deerfield's opponent is Ashland's Caroline Yates, who defeated Rowan County's Natalie Northcutt in two sets (6-3, 6-1).

"I'm so excited to be in the finals," Yates said. "This has been my goal since I started playing tennis."

Yates' win is a way for her to put a period at the end of a sentence after her recent obstacle due to injury.

"I was really worried last year when I tore my knee and had to get surgery," Yates said. "I wasn't sure if I'd be able to come back. I really wanted to so I worked hard to get back. I'm just so thankful for everyone who helped me through, especially my coaches. I'm just so grateful to make it to the finals."

As for her region final match, Yates knows it'll be a tall task made tougher by off-the-court obstacles.

"Laken is so good and she works really hard," Yates said. "I know it'll be a tough match. Plus, I also have to figure out how much I should focus on studying for my AP Biology test that same day. But, I'm just looking forward to going out and playing. Tennis is one of my favorite things."

Ashland will also be represented in the championship round by the boys doubles team of Ryder Riggs and Chris Peacock who defeated the Rowan County duo of Carter Owens and Logan Lucas in two straight sets (6-1, 6-2).

"We played flawless, really," Riggs said. "We were good at the net, really good at baseline, and we served it well."

"We really couldn't have done it much better than that," Peacock added.

The pair will meet the Russell's Parker Whitlock and Max Newman, who defeated Ashland's Nick Parker and Carter Hayes in two straight 6-0 sets.

Riggs and Peacock are focused on winning the title in the matchup.

"We're just going to win it," Riggs said. "That's our mindset. We're going to come in and play our hearts out. We want it."

The final match of the night produced a dramatic turn of events after the quarterfinal and semifinal rounds were moved indoors due to rain.

Russell's Reggie Bechtel advanced to the region finals match against three-time defending champion and teammate, Alden Johnson, after Rowan County's Chris Gray had to retire in the ninth game of the second set.

The two competitors matched each other's shotmaking in the opening set. Gray took an early 1-0 lead after winning a tiebreaker at love.

Bechtel battled cramps in the second set and found himself down 4-1. Gray, who suffers from a heart condition, felt discomfort midway through the set. He wanted to keep battling but his father and doctors in attendance wanted to take every precaution and ended the match.

Ashland coach Eddie Sizemore said Gray is doing well and didn't have to go to the hospital on Tuesday night.

The finals start at 4:30 today at the Ashland Tennis Center. Full results from the region tournament can be found at khsaa.org and utrsports.net.

(606) 326-2658

wadams@dailyindependent.com