LONE OAK – It’s been a long time coming for Graves County tennis. For the first time in the program’s history, the First Region boys’ doubles title belongs to the Eagles. And for the regional boys’ singles runner-up, it was a final showing after a six-year journey.
Isaac Carrico and Brady Ellegood – the top seed in boys’ doubles – claimed the championship with a 6-0, 6-1 match over crosstown rivals Tate Puckett and Kobe Morris of Mayfield Wednesday at the Larry J. Heflin Tennis Center here and finished the regular season and regional tournament undefeated.
Earlier, Graves’ Jaron Hale, the third seed who had upset McCracken County’s Ty Crabtree on Tuesday in the semifinals, faced No. 1 seed Davis Rowton. Rowton claimed the boys’ singles title in straight sets, 6-0, 6-0.
“I’ve kind of held my breath this year, because I knew we had something special with those three boys,” Graves County coach Chuck Whitnell said.
In just their second year of playing doubles together, Carrico and Ellegood were defending First Region runners-up last season. Since then, they had set their sights on winning the regional crown.
“We’ve worked all summer and kept working throughout the school year, and it got us here,” Carrico said.
“They wanted to get back to the finals,” Whitnell added. “They weren’t satisfied being runner-ups last season, and their efforts paid off.”
The two had won against Puckett and Morris, the third seed, twice during the regular season by 8-5 and 9-7 decisions. Wednesday, however, both Cardinals seemed to struggle to find their rhythm.
“We weren’t in it mentally,” coach Mitzi Guhy said. “We got down a couple of games and never could regain what we were doing.
“That’s not their best quality work,” she added. “But you have bad days in tennis, and today was a bad day to have a bad day for us.”
Both teams will play in the KHSAA State Tennis Tournament, beginning May 30 in Lexington. Last year, the Graves team drew the No. 3 seeded doubles team of Parker Clarke and Layne Meek of Ashland Blazer, which reached the state finals.
“We’re excited going up there again,” Carrico said. “We shouldn’t draw a three seed. We hope to make it farther.”
Puckett and Morris will also make their return to Lexington after going as a doubles team last season. For Puckett, it is his third trip after finishing as regional runner-up his freshman year with partner Michael Day.
Hale gets early graduation gift
Hale started on the tennis team in seventh grade. “(He) was the young guy and the older guys, he was trying to keep up with them,” Whitnell recalled.
“Every time, he was one of the best, but the chips didn’t fall right,” he added,
Tuesday, they did when Hale defeated No. 2-seed Crabtree on Tuesday by splitting their match, 5-7 and 6-4, to force the tiebreaker, which Hale won, 10-3.
“I told his dad he got an early graduation gift when he got to the semis (beating Calloway County’s Carlos Aguilar Monday, 6-0, 6-1) and (Tuesday) was icing on the cake,” Whitnell said.
It was certainly a confidence boost for Hale, who graduates Friday.
“(Tuesday), I didn’t know how the match was going to go,” he said. “Then to come back and win was a big boost to how I felt coming into (Tuesday’s) match.”
And after that journey he’s been on since seventh grade, to get a final chance to play on the state tennis stage is another major milestone.
“I can’t describe it,” Hale added. “I couldn’t stop smiling after winning that match.”
Both Mayfield’s girls’ and Graves County’s boys’ teams were runners-up for team titles. McCracken County’s girls and Paducah Tilghman’s boys were both crowned champions.
“I’m really proud of the whole team,” Guhy said of the Lady Cardinals. “This is a combination of everybody playing their matches to the best of their abilities.”
Megan and Molly Null, the No. 4 seeded girls’ doubles team, will also advance to state after they reached the semifinals.
Shultz wins Sportsmanship honor
Graves County sophomore Laken Shultz was named the 2019 First Region Sportsmanship Female Award winner Wednesday. Shultz was on the Lady Eagles’ doubles team with Maddy Williams.
“That was something,” Whitnell said. “Our kids respect their opponents. That says a lot about her.”