MURFREESBORO — The pressure was on Unicoi County’s Conly Shults in Tuesday’s BlueCross Spring Fling team tennis championships at Old Fort Park.
With an obvious strategy to hit the ball to Shults in a match-deciding No. 2 doubles contest, the Blue Devil sophomore answered by making enough shots to lift himself and teammate Matt Holka to 9-7 victory over the Christ Presbyterian Academy duo of Zayne Mills and Jack Zieman.
It gave Unicoi County (10-0) a 4-3 team victory over the Lions, and set up a Class A/AA state championship match today at 12:30 p.m. against Collegedale Academy (17-3).
Earlier in the day, the Dobyns-Bennett girls edged Murfreesboro Siegel 4-3 to advance to the Class AAA state championship.
“It was tough, but we were able to pull through,” Shults said. “I don’t know how I dealt with the pressure. Holka helped me deal with it, but it was really nerve-wracking. I’m just glad we were able to pull through.”
Reed Jackson and Holka won singles matches to give Unicoi an early advantage, but the Lions’ Lucas Spickard rallied to beat Unicoi’s Paschal Koch 3-6, 6-3, 7-5 at No. 1 singles and send the match into doubles.
While Koch and Jackson had little trouble at No. 1 doubles, going up 7-0 before winning 8-2 over Spickard and Caleb Whitaker, the No. 2 doubles match was a dogfight.
The teams were able to break the others’ serve multiple times, while four times Unicoi County lost deuce points, only to come back and win the match on a deuce point.
“They perservered and I applaud them for fighting to the end,” Blue Devils head coach Michael Smith said. “Paschal fought in that singles match, but he came up a little short. Really, everyone on the team fought hard today.”
Shults at No. 4 singles lost to Whitaker 6-3, 6-4, while No. 5 Nic Chambers lost 6-4, 6-2 to CPA’s Cade Meinel. In the doubles match, Holka scored most of the pro set’s early points. However, Shults came through at the end when Unicoi County rallied to win the final three games.
Down 40-0 in the final game, Shults served for four straight points to pull the Blue Devils ahead.
“I am very proud of Conly with the way he responded,” Smith said. “I told him one time, ‘If you haven’t noticed, they’re trying to hit it to you every time. So just hit it back and keep it in play, and let Matt get some at the net. He did a good job of doing that.
“Down 0-40 in that last game, to get four serves to get them in, so we could get the points, that was huge.”
The championship match pits two teams which had never even made to the state tournament before this year.
“I’m excited for Unicoi County and our school to have this opportunity,” Smith said. “But, most of all, I’m proud of these guys for getting us here.”
Murfreesboro Siegel 3
An 8-6 victory by Josie Rogers and Halee Yungmeyer at No. 1 doubles gave the Lady Indians the hard-fought victory over the Lady Stars and berth into today’s title match against Brentwood Ravenwood.
Rogers won earlier in the day at No. 1 singles, 7-6 (4), 6-2 over Siegel’s Ashlee Boles. Then, Evelyn Rogers and Katie Heidt added wins in their No. 4 and No. 5 singles matches.
Joclyn Grisby nearly closed out the win at No. 3 singles, ahead 4-1 in the second set. In the most competitive match of the day, the Lady Stars’ Jacquelyn Leeman stormed back to take a 6-7 (4), 7-6 (5), 6-4 victory.
Siegel also won 8-5 at No. 2 doubles before the Lady Indians’ No. 1 doubles team pulled out the win.
“It was two evenly matched teams and we were fortunate enough to come out of that,” D-B head coach Ron Frankowski said. “It’s all about competing and who was mentally toughest at the end. We survived another day.”
Dobyns-Bennett will face Brentwood Ravenwood today at 10 a.m. for the Class AAA championship.