PRATT — It’s been McPherson High and Independence battling for supremacy all year in the state tennis rankings and the schools are living up to that billing in the Class 4A State Tournament.
Independence has been ranked No. 1 much of the year, with the Bullpups nipping at their heels. The Bullpups finished ahead of the Bulldogs at Wichita Collegiate last month, but the Bulldogs got the better of MHS in the rematch in McPherson, though the Bullpups were missing two of their key players.
Barring some craziness Saturday, one of those teams is going emerge as the state champion.
It was a great day for the Bullpups during Friday’s play. Both of their doubles teams have advanced to the semifinals, assuring themselves of two Top 4 finishes.
MHS’ Gallagher Martin and Nolan Schrader will be playing Independence's Will Schabel and Pat Hardy, while the Bullpups' Kento Aizawa and Luke Williams play Justin Salisbury and Derek Weaver of Paola in the other.
Aizawa and Williams had to survive a three-set challenge from Smoky Valley’s surprising quarterfinalists Trapper Bellah and Nick Reinert, with a 6-4 score in the third set. Bellah and Reinert had finished fifth in last week’s regional in Lindsborg.
The Bullpups’ Andrew Snell is playing for third place in singles against Independence’s Zack Schroeder after losing to probable champion Tommy Hunter of Topeka Hayden in the semifinals. A Snell win would move the Bullpups ever closer to the team title. Hunter is playing Gabe Johnson for the championship, which would be his third. Johnson was the singles champion in the Lindsborg regional.
MHS’ Kaden Stewart will medal in singles, as the best he can finish is ninth and the worst is 12th.
“It was a crazy day with a lot going on,” MHS coach Tyler Brown said.
A surprise was Bellah and Reinert shocking Indy’s regional championship team of Josh Hilger and Sam Hilger in the second round.
Brown and his players were busy tonight figuring out all the possible scenarios and it figures to come down to the head-to-matches the teams play Saturday.
“We’re looking good, but so is Indy,” he said. “It’s going to be close.”
Independence, according to Brown, could have no entry finish lower than fifth, though that’s the best-case scenario. So both doubles semifinals Saturday morning are going to be huge because if the Bullpups would win both, they would be tough to catch.
Because of the expected bad weather, the singles division was extended to include the semifinals on Friday. Normally the semifinals are the first matches on Saturday.