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FRANKFORT--Bullitt East senior Hunter Norris moved into rarified air last week when he qualified for a third straight trip to the Boys' Kentucky State Tennis Tournament as he reached the semi-finals of the Eighth Region Tournament at Franklin County High School.
Norris had twice previously gotten to Lexington for the state tourney in doubles along with partner Reese Milburn. After Milburn's graduation, Norris switched over to singles and with the spot in the semi-finals, advanced to the state tourney.
Besides a third straight trip to the state finals, Norris became the first Bullitt East boys' singles player to earn the trip since 1998 when Jason Ralston qualified for that event.
The big win came in the quarter-finals when the fourth-seeded Norris needed to go to a tie-breaker to defeat Nathan Geib of Oldham County, the number five seed. Norris had defeated Geib earlier in the season, by a fairly easy score, but it was a lot tougher in the post-season.
Geib won the first set 6-2 before Norris rallied to win the second set 6-1. That set up the tie-breaker with the first player to ten points winning the match. The two went back and forth and the score was tied at 6-6 before Norris won the last four points to take the match.
That put Norris into the semi-finals where he was paired against Jordan Pitts of South Oldham, the stateÕs top-ranked sophomore and the number one player in the regional tournament. Pitts knocked Norris out of the event at that point, rolling to a 6-0, 6-0 win. Pitts went on to win the regional title.
In two early round matches, Norris defeated Will Grasch of Western Hills 6-2, 6-1 before turning back Noah Bates of Frankfort 6-1, 6-0 to set up the meeting with Geib.
Led by the points from Norris, Bullitt East finished fourth in the boys' team race with six points. South Oldham won the team title.
Norris admitted on Wednesday that there was plenty of pressure on him to defeat Geib and get back to the state tournament.
"I felt a lot of pressure there," the senior said following the loss to Pitts. "I add pressure to myself. I try to relax when I start hitting with them, but it is hard to keep your cool.
"Then I got the last four points," the senior added. "I battled back. I knew this was my last year. I wanted to go out with a bang."
On Wednesday, Norris returned to Frankfort to take on Pitts in the semi-finals. The two have played before, both during the high school season and out of season and Norris has never had much success against his younger rival. That kept the hopes and dreams to a minimum in this match.
"Jordan is a good player. He's a great player," Norris admitted. "He works hard. He gets what he deserves. He'll be a Division-1 player.
"My hope was to win, obviously," the player continued. "I wanted two or three games, but he was on and hitting lines. Every time I thought I hit a good shot, he hit it back. The credit goes to him."
The goal at the beginning of the week was to get back to Lexington and that was accomplished.
"Overall, yes I'm happy with the week," Norris concluded. "I would like to have played better today. I was happy with the first two matches and then with the win yesterday. I'm happy that I'm going to state."
Bullitt East head coach Dustin Armstrong was also happy to see one of his players in the semi-finals in what was probably the last season that the program will be in the Eighth Region as the Bullitt County teams are probably moving to a modified Sixth Region starting next spring.
"Jordan is the best player in our region and he was on today," Armstrong said after his final player was eliminated. "It's tough when he is missing very little. He had no double faults and few unforced errors. He's just tough."
Against Geib, the player and coach talked between sets and changed the mindset a little.
"He had just missed some crucial shots in key situations," Armstrong recalled. "We talked. It was the other kid. It was Hunter not playing inside the line. He was playing on the lines. He started working to win the point on the fourth or fifth shot and not the second or third shot."
Bullitt East was not able to play a single match at home this season because the new tennis courts at the school are still not complete. Still, the team found success.
"I was proud of the team to go 10-4 and get fourth in the region," Armstrong said. "We had to do what we could with what we had. Most of the time we came out on top."
Bullitt East's number two singles player, Jacob Staples, opened with a 6-0, 6-1 victory over Kurt Denton of Gallatin county before being sidelined by Ethan Russell of Shelby County 6-1, 6-4. Russell had beaten Matteo Bedendo of North Bullitt in the first round 6-0, 6-2.
Bullitt Central had two singles entries in the Eighth Region Tournament, but both Chase Craddock and Alex Price lost their opening matches. In fact, Craddock lost to Geib 6-1, 6-1 while Price lost to Alan Clark of Oldham County 6-3, 6-0.
In doubles, Bullitt East got a point from the team of Dylan Hooper and Will Brown as they beat a team from Anderson County 6-2, 6-2. In the second round, Hooper and Brown fell to the tourney's third-seeded team 6-0, 6-0. The Chargers' other doubles team of Zach Marlett and Phillip Burress opened with a 6-1, 6-3 victory over a team from Trimble County before being sidelined in a tough match by the fourth seeded team from Shelby County, 6-1, 5-7 and then losing 10-7 in the tie-breaker.
North Bullitt did get a point in doubles as the team of Matthew Fairth and Carter Campbell beat a team from Frankfort 6-3, 7-5 in the first round. The two were then sidelined by the seventh-seeded team 6-1, 6-2. The second North Bullitt team of James Constant and Jared Loudermilk lost in the opening round 6-1, 6-0 to the fifth-seeded pair.
Bullitt Central's two doubles teams lost in the first round. Jacob Calvert and Ian Anderson lost 6-1, 6-1 while the team of Alex Cromer and Cody McCubbins fell 6-1, 6-0.
The only points in the Girls' Eighth Region Tournament for Bullitt County players were turned in by Bullitt East.
In doubles, Bullitt East got a point from the team of Masi Sanders and Kylar Ware as they beat a team from Spencer County 7-6 (7-5), 6-4. The team then lost to the second-seeded team, a squad from North Oldham, 6-1, 6-1. The other Bullitt East team, Shelby Carver and Jenny Pinkley, lost in the first round.
In the singles, Bullitt East's Savannah Kruse lost her first match, to the fifth-seeded Emma Beavin of North Oldham 6-0, 6-1. Kruse's teammate, Cory Gollar, drew the top seeded player, Aspen Jarrett of Oldham County, and lost 6-0, 6-0.
Bullitt Central did have a full team for this event. In singles, Amy Gossett lost her first-round match 6-0, 6-2 as did teammate Bailey Hobbs. In doubles, the two Lady Cougar teams were made up of Amber Wolf and Megan Terry along with the squad of Kaitlyn Cundiff and Antonia Loehner.
North Bullitt also had a full team on the girls' side. In singles, Raven Thomas lost to a highly seeded player in her first match and teammate Myrissa Druien also lost her first-round match. The two North Bullitt doubles teams were made up of Lexi VanMeter and Kess Ballard as well as the team of Jessica Duncan and Katie Irvin.