CullmanTimes.com - Cullman, Alabama

April 24, 2013

CLASS 5A STATE TENNIS TOURNEY: Bearcats' Baker/Sharpton team up for doubles title, Davis cruises to singles triumph

By Rob Ketcham
The Cullman Times

DECATUR — As the sun was setting on the Class 5A State Tennis Tournament, only four players remained on the court with a chance to take home hardware.

On one side was Cullman's Bailey Baker and Olivia Sharpton. On the other, Briarwood Christian's Ellie Tarence and Kateleigh Calloway.

Tied at one set apiece, both sun-soaked duos were fully aware of the task at hand — win the third and final set and lay claim to the title in No. 2 doubles.

The first three games went to the Bearcats, the next three to the Lions. After such an even start, one team had to budge, and it quickly became apparent it wasn't going to be Baker and Sharpton. The Black and Gold girls proceeded to finish just as they began, reeling off three straight games to cap off a 6-2, 6-7, 6-3 victory.

When a Briarwood return sailed long on match point, Baker let out a celebratory yell before rushing to Sharpton and swallowing her in a hug.

“We worked really hard to get here all season, and I knew at sectionals when we won that we would do good at the (state) tournament. And we did wonderful,” an elated Baker said, once again embracing her soft-spoken partner in crime.

After such a back-and-forth affair, Nathan Bates could only compare the tourney's finale to a basketball game.

“They had their run, the other team had their run and we had the final run,” the Cullman coach said. “That's what we needed to do.”

Earlier on Tuesday, Baker's and Sharpton's road to the championship hit a speed bump during their semifinal match versus Hartselle. According to Sharpton, the pair struggled to play to their full potential early on, leading the Tigers to steal the first set by a 6-2 margin. Instead of panicking, however, Baker and Sharpton rose to the occasion, returning to form to win the second and third sets in convincing 6-3, 6-2 fashions.

“For them to get to the final after facing that adversity and then go out there and play a really tough team (Briarwood), part of the state championship team, and pull it off, I'm super proud of them,” Bates said.

As the coach mentioned, the Lions didn't go home empty-handed despite the defeat in No. 2 doubles. With 55 points, Briarwood took home the top prize, besting St. Paul's by five points and the third-place Bearcats by 12.

Baker and Sharpton were largely to thank for the top-three result, but so too were seniors Hannah Cornelius and McKenzie Bussman, who were runners-up in No. 1 doubles after losing two tough 6-4 sets to the Lions' top pair.

While Baker and Sharpton worked together to win the Black and Gold girls' only championship, Matthew Davis pulled off the feat all on his own on the boys side.

Once the sophomore took a 4-3 first-set lead on St. Paul's Harrison Citrin in their No. 6 singles final, there was no looking back. Davis only lost two more games from there on out, cruising to a dominant 6-4, 6-1 championship triumph.

Following an overhead shot for the clincher, Davis roared the two words every tennis player hates to hear but loves to say — “Come on.”

“Having come to the finals last year and losing to the same team, it feels really great to finally finish business,” the newly minted champ said shortly after the biggest win of his young prep career.

Davis isn't the first in his family to compete in tennis at the state level, but after Tuesday, there's no denying he's the most accomplished in his household. The closest the sophomore's dad, Tim, came to claiming a title was a state runner-up finish in 1980.

“I was actually thinking about that during the second set,” the younger Davis said with a chuckle and mile-wide grin. “I was like, 'First one in the family, finally.'”

All of Davis' family members in attendance — even his father — were as proud as could be following the victory, as was the youngun's coach.

“He's done it all season long, and he just went out and did what we expected him to do,” Bates said. “He played like a machine.”

As high as the coach is on Davis as a tennis player, he didn't feel the accolades could've been bestowed on a more deserving young man.

“With Matt, you're talking about a good boy,” Bates said. “You're not going to find many better than him.”

With only 30 minutes to an hour to catch his breath, Davis jumped right back on the court to help his doubles partner, senior Ryan Hunt, advance to the No. 3 finals. The two handled Russellville's Blake Hovater and Dylan Mansell in a 6-1 first set and then put the match away with a gritty 7-6 second-set tiebreak.

Davis and Hunt carried their momentum into the title tilt versus St. Paul's, splitting the first two sets 7-5, 2-6 before the Saints' William Russell and Benton Weinacker pulled away down the stretch with a 6-3 result in the decider.

Baylor Adams (No. 2 singles) joined Davis and Hunt as Cullman boys with state runner-up results, leading the team to a fifth-place finish. The Bearcats' 29 points were just one shy of Walker in fourth but well behind the winner, Spanish Fort (58), and runner-up, St. Paul's (56).

When asked about the team's four seniors — Hunt, Cornelius, Bussman and Mary Claire Smith — Bates had to compose himself before spending a brief moment talking about each one.

The coach described Hunt as “the glue that holds the team together,” a happy-go-lucky guy who's been quick to take the squad's new players under his wing.

In Cornelius, Bates has seen a girl who refuses to be outworked by anyone, quickly forgetting the good and bad from past matches and simply focusing on the next task thrown her way.

Bussman is a competitor who the coach said “is a true champion in the way she lives her whole life.” Even when the score wasn't always in her favor, he never saw her do anything but continue to fight.

And last but not least, there's Smith, who Bates described as “so much fun to be around.” Despite constantly being given a different doubles partner throughout her senior year, Smith could always be counted on to maintain a positive outlook.

“They're just a special group,” an emotional Bates said of the upperclassmen. “They're all going to be successful in what they do. I honestly believe that.”

Of course he'll miss the kids who will soon be lost to graduation, but the coach also admitted he'll miss their parents. Whenever Bates has asked any of them for a favor, he said they've always come through, no questions asked.

“This group has been so supportive,” he said. “It'll be tough to replace these four sets of parents.”

See Cullman's full singles and doubles results below:

 

Girls

Singles

No. 1 – Hannah Cornelius

def. Chilton County 6-1, 6-1

lost to St. Paul's 2-6, 6-2, 6-4

 

No. 2 – McKenzie Bussman

advanced with bye

def. Walker 2-6, 7-5, 6-2

lost to Homewood 2-6, 6-3, 6-4

 

No. 3 – Olivia Sharpton

advanced with bye

def. Chilton County 6-1, 6-0

lost to St. Paul's 6-3, 6-4

 

No. 4 – Bailey Baker

def. Valley 6-0, 6-0

def. Benjamin Russell 6-0, 6-1

lost to St. Paul's 0-6, 6-4, 6-2

 

No. 5 – Anna Trevarthen

advanced with bye

lost to Walker 6-4, 6-0

 

No. 6 – Makenna Smith

def. Muscle Shoals 6-4, 6-1

lost to St. Paul's 7-5, 6-2

 

Doubles

No. 1 – Hannah Cornelius/McKenzie Bussman – runner-up

def. Hartselle 6-1, 6-0

def. Walker 6-1, 3-6, 6-4

def. St. Paul's 6-1, 6-4

lost to Briarwood 6-4, 6-4

 

No. 2 – Olivia Sharpton/Bailey Baker – winner

advanced with bye

def. Gulf Shores 6-1, 6-3

def. Hartselle 2-6, 6-3, 6-1

def. Briarwood 6-2, 6-7, 6-3

 

No. 3 – Anna Trevarthen/Mary Claire Smith

def. Valley 6-0, 6-0

def. Muscle Shoals 6-4, 6-2

lost to St. Paul's 6-3, 6-4

 

Boys

Singles

No. 1 – Clint Watson

def. Walker 6-1, 6-2

lost to Spanish Fort 6-0, 6-3

 

No. 2 – Baylor Adams – runner-up

def. Demopolis 6-2, 6-0

def. Walker 6-4, 6-4

def. St. Paul's 6-2, 7-5

lost to Spanish Fort 6-2, 6-0

 

No. 3 – Jacob Davis

advanced with bye

lost to Walker 6-3, 6-3

 

No. 4 – Luke Bowden

advanced with bye

lost to Muscle Shoals 6-2, 2-6, 6-1

 

No. 5 – Ryan Hunt

def. Homewood 6-2, 6-1

def. Walker 6-3, 6-3

lost to Spanish Fort 6-1, 7-6

 

No. 6 – Matthew Davis – winner

def. Demopolis 6-0, 6-0

def. Walker 6-1, 6-3

def. Russellville 6-2, 6-4

def. St. Paul's 6-4, 6-1

 

Doubles

No. 1 – Baylor Adams/Jacob Davis

lost to Spanish Fort

 

No. 2 – Clint Watson/Luke Bowden

advanced with bye

lost to Walker 6-3, 6-4

 

No. 3 – Ryan Hunt/Matthew Davis

advanced with bye

def. Benjamin Russell 6-1, 6-1

def. Russellville 6-1, 7-6

lost to St. Paul's 7-5, 2-6, 6-3

 

% Rob Ketcham can be reached at 256-734-2131, ext. 257 or at robk@cullmantimes.com.