BY ROCKY STANLEY
THE DAILY INDEPENDENT
ASHLAND Robby Krick’s second 16th Region singles title in three years combined Tomcat fun and respect, as well as some late drama.
For the first time since 2005, two Ashland players met in the boys championship match.
Krick, a junior and the top seed, hammered his way to a commanding lead and then had to withstand sophomore teammate Parker Clarke’s comeback for a 6-2, 7-5 victory at the Ashland Tennis Center.
“I had fun out there,” Krick said after coming off Court 1. “It about gave me a heart attack at the end, but I definitely had fun.”
Krick hugged Clarke, the No. 2 seed, at courtside prior to the match and gave him a couple of slaps on the back during changeovers. Clarke entered with an 18-0 singles record this season.
“We were both nervous coming out,” Krick said of the friendly rivals. “I was very nervous with the expectation after last year.”
The 2016 boys region final saw Russell’s Matthew Eastham knock off Krick, who used that defeat as fuel for his run to the state semifinals.
Clarke executed a nice angle volley to take the opening game, but Krick pounded away with his serve and booming forehand to take control of the first set. The momentum carried into the second set. Krick served for the match at 5-2, but Clarke found a groove and reeled off the next three games to pull even.
“Parker just started playing incredibly well,” Krick said. “He was focused and competed as well as anybody could ask for ... a champion effort. I had to dig in and find another gear because he played awesome.”
Both players acknowledged big shots by the other during the match. Afterward, Clarke was quick to compliment Krick.
“There’s no stopping him,” Clarke said. “It’s incredible how confident Robby is with his shot. His athleticism is off the scale.”
Ashland coach Eddie Sizemore smiled when asked about the matchup between his top two players.
“Last year when the regional ended, we wanted Krick and Parker to meet in this final,” Sizemore said. “It lived up to the billing. On match point, Clarke popped a string on his racket and the ball sailed long. He lined it up and hit it perfectly.”
Sizemore paused, then added “I thought they put on a great show. It was White vs. Maroon in a civil war. I’m happy for both of them. Maybe they will be able to do it again. Our whole team’s getting better right now.”
Ashland also won the doubles title as No. 1 seeds Will Frye and Layne Meek defeated Chandler Nguyen and Wes Patterson of Russell 6-3, 6-1.
“We spent a lot of time on the courts preparing for this week,” Meek said. “We played a lot of good teams to get ready.”
For Frye, the title couldn’t have been sweeter. The senior was region runner-up in doubles the past two years — first with Wesley Whelan and then Meek.
“I didn’t want to leave without a doubles title,” Frye said. “There was pressure for Layne, He didn’t want to let me down.”
The teams met earlier this season, with Ashland winning a close match.
“Today might be their best match of the season.” Sizemore said. “The whole year we have watched for this point of the year, and I think we are getting better daily. We have a chance to go to Lexington and do something special.”
Ashland racked up 17 points in winning its 13th region team championship in Sizemore’s 17 seasons at the helm. Russell finished runner-up, winning a tiebreaker with Rowan County after both teams scored nine points.
Russell’s girls tallied 15 to take first place for the fifth consecutive year. Ashland was next with 10 points, followed by East Carter (8).
“Obviously, I’m super proud of them,” Russell coach Larra Ferguson said. “We knew there would be hard matches and close matches. I’m proud of how they controlled their nerves.”
Senior Claudia Kendrick and sisters Maci and Mia Ferguson each achieved firsts as Russell swept the singles and doubles finals.
Maci rallied from an early deficit to capture her first region singles title after enjoying huge success in region and state doubles the previous four years.
The top-seeded junior climbed out of an early hole to beat Greenup County’s Madison Hill 75, 6-0. Down 5-2 in the opening set, Ferguson eliminated errors and went on the attack to win 11 consecutive games and close out the match.
“I was super nervous,” she said. “I never played in a singles region championship. Madison’s a great player. I knew she was going to come out ready. Once I got down 52, it was like ‘OK, it’s time to kick in gear and start playing.”
Instead of settling for a baseline battle with the steady Hill, Ferguson started coming to the net more often and used her volleying skills honed in doubles.
Former doubles partner Kierstin Hensley, who teamed with Maci to win two state and four region championships, attended the match for support. Hensley just finished up an outstanding freshman season at West Virginia State.
“It was a huge deal seeing her on the sideline,” Maci said. “It made me calmer. I was use to her being beside me most of the time.”
In doubles, Kendrick and eighthgrader Mia Ferguson teamed up for their first region doubles title by bouncing top-seeded Milena Clarke and Makenzie Hayes of East Carter 6-2, 6-2.
“I think we’ve improved a lot playing together,” said Kendrick, a 2015 region runner-up who has also fared well at the state level in doubles. “We were backing each other up.”
Kendrick and Mia Ferguson defeated the East Carter tandem in their first meeting this season. Clarke and Hayes won a rematch by tiebreaker in the Eastern Kentucky Conference Tournament.
“Mom (Larra) says everything happens for a reason,” said Mia, who was playing in her first region final. “ I was thinking, I can’t let my team down. I can’t let Claudia down.”
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