Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

Local Sports

May 8, 2014

Ashland boys, Russell girls win team titles

ASHLAND — Rose Hill Christian’s David Bush closed out his 16th Region tennis career in style Thursday at the Ashland Tennis Center.

Playing in his seventh consecutive regional singles final, Bush got a challenge from talented Russell sophomore Matthew Eastham before posting a 6-3, 6-2 victory to extend his streak of region championships to five. That’s uncharted territory in the boys singles division.

“I definitely wanted to finish strong, for sure,” Bush said. “I’m looking forward to state, for sure. I think it will be a lot of fun.”

Ashland sophomore Lauren Fazenbaker enjoyed a breakthrough in girls singles, while Ashland’s boys and Russell’s girls came through with pivotal doubles wins on their way to regional team titles.

Both team races finished in ties. Russell’s girls poured a cooler of ice water over the head of coach Larra Ferguson after beating Rose Hill 3-0 in their best-of-five courts tiebreaker.

Her daughter Maci, part of a dynamic doubles combination, gave Larra a long hug so that teammates could give in position to douse their coach.

“That water was so cold, it kind of took my breath,” Larra said. “I’m proud of all of them. Instead of it coming down to one match, it was a team effort.”

Maci, an eighth-grader, and sophomore Kierstin Hensley beat Rachael Bush and Madison Lett 6-1, 6-1 at No. 1 doubles. Russell’s No. 2 doubles team of Hunter Nguyen and Claudia Kendrick defeated Myriah Porter and Sarah Powell 6-3, 6-0, while Ashley Nguyen downed Katie Shumway at No. 3 singles.

Rose Hill led in the other two singles matches when play was stopped.

Earlier, Hensley and Ferguson got their team into the playoff with a 6-0, 6-2 victory over Bush and Lett.

“I thought we stayed pretty focused,” Ferguson said. “We played to the best of our ability. It definitely helped being aggressive at the net and staying consistent.”

Both players said they fed off the support of Russell fans.

“It felt awesome,” Hensley said. “A lot of people were there to cheer for us. We prepared ourselves well for the match. I was nervous at the start, but then we got our heads together and played like we always do.”

Last year, the young doubles combo advanced all the way to the state semifinals.  

On the boys’ side, Ashland and Rose Hill each totaled 14 points as Ashland countered Bush’s record win by taking the doubles title. Seniors Wesley Daniel and Alex Newmark rolled past Rose Hill’s David Stringer and Nathan Reynolds 6-0, 6-0 to cap a rare feat of not dropping a game the entire tournament.

“I can’t remember anybody doing that, at least in recent history,” Tomcats coach Eddie Sizemore said. “I’m so happy for them. The pressure was huge in that match. If they don’t win, Rose Hill wins the team title. Alex and Wesley stepped up big.”

In the playoff, Rose Hill defaulted three matches to give Ashland a 3-0 victory.

The Tomcats are headed to Sunday’s Section 4 Tournament for the first time in the four years of Kentucky’s team format competition.

“I’m just so excited,” Sizemore said. “It has more of a football or basketball feel.”

The sectional tournament opens at 9 a.m. Sunday at the ATC. Boys matchups include Oneida Baptist against Corbin, and Lawrence County against Ashland. For the girls, it’s Corbin vs. Knott County Central, and Lawrence County vs. Russell.

It hasn’t been as easy week for the high-energy Sizemore.

“I’ve been pretty jacked up,” he said. “I’ve been waking up in the middle of the night. The last three years we finished second, third and then a very close second. This year, we were absolutely planning for a win or tie in the regional tournament.”    

Newmark and Daniel made amends after each lost in last year’s regional tournament while playing doubles with different partners against the same Rose Hill team.

“I couldn’t be more proud of them,” Sizemore said. “Last year, maybe both got a little tight. They made up for it today and then some. They kept their errors down and controlled their aggressiveness.”

Sizemore thought about splitting up Newmark and Daniel early in the season, but decided to keep them together because of their chemistry.

“We both have good first serves,” Daniel said. “We kind of key on that first serve and try to put the volley away.”

Newmark said Daniel’s consistency at the baseline and high percentage on first serves helped account for Thursday’s result.

Bush had to expend plenty of energy to get past Eastham on an unseasonably warm evening and put an exclamation point on his 16th Region dominance.

“Matt is a really good player,” Bush said. “He always makes me be aware. You can’t take points off here and there. He makes you play every point.”

Eastham broke Bush’s serve twice in the early going as the score was tied 3-3. But Bush followed up with a strong service game and went on to take the set. He carried that momentum to maintain the upper hand.

“I definitely served better Tuesday,” Bush said of his semifinal win over Robby Berry of Ashland. “I ended up taking some pace off it, and played pretty well overall.”

Eastham was playing in his first regional singles final. He won a doubles title in 2011 and was runner-up the following year. Bush, meanwhile, has been a fixture in the singles championship match since 2008.  

“I definitely had my share of experience in regional finals,” Bush said. “I think that definitely helps me.”

Ashland’s top-seeded Fazenbaker swept past No. 4 Jessica Burton of Boyd County 6-0, 6-0 for the girls title after three consecutive runner-up finishes.

“It’s great,” Fazenbaker said. “My fourth year and I finally got one.”

Fazenbaker said she put the past tournaments out of her head for her latest final.

“I just focused on playing first,” she said. “I feel like I’ve gotten stronger since last year. I wouldn’t he here without my coaches (Jamey Sellars and Sizemore).”

Burton took a medical timeout during the match while having trouble breathing. She was coming off a semifinal upset of Greenup County’s Micah Leslie.

“Congratulations to her, that win was really good,” Fazenbaker said.

ROCKY STANLEY can be reached at rstanley@dailyindependent.com or (606) 326-2671.


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