Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

Local Sports

May 7, 2014

16th Region tennis semifinals: Royals try to regrip crown

Rose Hill, opponents look to be headed for team ties

ASHLAND — Rose Hill Christian’s girls won their first 16th Region tennis championship two years ago. The boys did likewise last season.

A year later, the Royals are going down to the wire in both divisions entering Thursday’s finals.

The Royals and Ashland are tied at 13 on the boys’ side, while Rose Hill’s girls hold an 11-10 lead over Russell.

If seeding holds Thursday in boys singles and girls doubles, both divisions will end up deadlocked. It could be the first time in region history for a double-playoff that brings players back on the court to battle it out in a team format.

There’s more tennis to play first, but Rose Hill coach Kimberly Bush already sees much to be excited about.

“Nine out of our 12 kids that played in regionals are going to state (individually),” Bush said. “Five boys and four girls made it to semifinals.”

Rose Hills’ boys and girls each produced semifinal doubles wins in third-set tiebreakers late in the evening to keep their team championship hopes alive.

First, third-seeded Nathan Reynolds and David Stringer outfinished No. 2 Austin Craft and Will Frye of Ashland 6-3, 2-6, 1-0.

Stringer accounted for several points in the tiebreaker, which the Royals won 10-3.

“My focus was just on playing, not any other thing,” Stringer said. “They were very good.”

Added Reynolds: “It was a big win. We lost to them before.”

Both juniors are younger siblings of Rose Hill grads who helped the Royals win region titles. Leslie Stringer won two regional doubles titles for the Lady Royals, while Mitch Reynolds was a doubles champ at last year’s tournament. Leslie and Mitch were in the stands Thursday to offer support.

“They were before you,” David Stringer said. “You try to be as good as them. It’s a sibling rivalry.”

Reynolds and Stringer will go up against top-seeded Alex Newmark and Wesley Daniel on Thursday. The Ashland duo has not dropped a game in three matches this week, including Tuesday’s win over Elijah Daniels and Austin Taylor of Rose Hill.

Daniels and Taylor, unseeded, made a large contribution to Rose Hill’s cause in the quarterfinals by taking down fourth-seeded East Carter.

“I’m so proud of my team this year,” said Rose Hill senior leader David Bush, noting sophomore teammate Zach Whitt-Cherry as another example. “Zach came up big. He played a kid (Greenup County’s Nathan Sanders) that he lost to 6-0 in a season match and beat him 6-4, 6-4 (Round of 16). That was a big match for us.”

Bush took care of business by stopping Ashland’s Robby Berry 6-0, 6-2 in the semifinals.

Bush, aided by a strong serve, was razor sharp against the No. 3 seed. On the final game, Bush ripped back-to-back winners and followed with a passing shot.

“I felt really good today,” Bush said. “For sure it was the best I’ve played this season.”

In their previous match, Berry hung tough in the second set that Bush won 7-6 against his friend and frequent USTA doubles partner.

“When I was preparing for this match, I reflected on the last time we played,” Bush said. “I was thinking about what I could do better. Robby broke me a lot the last time we played. It made a big difference.”

Bush worked on his serve recently and saw the results in a tight match against West Virginia state champion Hunter Tubert of Huntington High.     

Russell sophomore Matthew Eastham is the only player standing between Bush and a fifth consecutive regional singles title. Bush won both of their regular-season meetings.

“David is good from both sides and has power when he needs it,” Eastham said. “He’s older. His experience with tough opponents probably helps him. He’s a cool guy, too.”              

Eastham advanced to his first regional singles final by defeating Ashland’s Robby Krick 7-5, 6-3.

“It was a tough match,” Eastham said. “I’m pretty stiff right now. I had to fight pretty hard to pull it out, so I’m super happy.”

Eastham trailed 3-1 in the second set before turning it on to close out the match.

“I had to step up my game,” he said. “I didn’t really want it to go to a third-set tiebreaker.”

Bush’s sister, Rachael, has played a key role in the growth of Rose Hill’s girls program and Thursday she reached her first regional doubles final.

“Finally, me and Bubs doing it together this year,” Rachael said with a big smile.

Bush and Madison Lett, seeded No. 2, outlasted third-seeded Claudia Kendrick and Hunter Nguyen 3-6, 6-1, 1-0 in the last match on court Tuesday.

The tiebreaker was 7-all before Bush scored off a net cord. Russell rallied from a 9-7 deficit to tie it before Rose Hill prevailed with Bush serving the final point.

Kendrick and Nguyen had an earlier 6-0, 6-0 loss to the Rose Hill team but grabbed the early momentum this time.

Defending region champs Kierstin Hensley and Maci Ferguson rolled 6-0, 6-0 against an unseeded Rose Hill doubles team coming off an upset of No. 4 Boyd County.

The Lady Royals also got two early singles wins from first-year player Kirsten Wehmeier.  

The girls singles final will match three-time runner-up Lauren Fazenbaker of Ashland against Boyd County’s Jessica Burton. The No. 4 seed knocked off second-seeded Micah Leslie of Greenup County 4-6, 6-3, 1-0 (6).  

Fazenbaker defeated No. 3 Madison Hill of Greenup County 6-3, 6-0 in the other semifinal.

“I’ve been working really hard,” Fazenbaker said. “I tired to move her around a lot, make her tired. She’s consistent. There were no short points.”

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

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