LEXINGTON -- McCracken County's Danni Poat and Shelby Puryear are bound to have youthful moments despite being undefeated this season. Poat is heading into her sophomore year, while Puryear moves to the high school this fall.
But behind that youth is a bit of fire and ice - and enough of each to get them out of trouble.
The top-seeded doubles used those elements to navigate through early stress at Thursday's KHSAA State Tennis Championships at Boone/Downing Tennis Center, escaping a tumultuous first set against Owensboro Catholic's Sarah Brown and Sarah Kate Jones for a 7-5, 6-0 win to advance into today's Round of 16.
Poat and Puryear seemed headed for a quick showdown when they were up 3-1 in the first set, as an ace from Puryear capped the fourth game and a sensational backhand from Poat went cross-court for the first point of the fifth game.
The Lady Mustangs would stake a 5-2 claim before the "Sarahs" would make a run - taking the next three games in convincing fashion. The pair of Lady Aces found the tie at 5-5 when Poat and Puryear had advantage, but couldn't close the deal behind four unforced errors on net balls.
But from there, it was all McCracken County. Poat and Puryear, visibly frustrated, kicked into an insatiable gear by taking the next seven games to advance - leaving the Lady Aces trumped.
"We just had to calm down," Puryear said.
"And keep the ball in play," added Poat.
No easy task keeping the ball in play on Thursday; despite beautiful skies, winds reached as high as 20 mph in brief gusts and made short-hands a bit longer and high volleys a bit softer.
But the tandem survived. Today at 10:30 a.m., they'll face North Oldham's Jenny Stekardis and Erin Biddle for a shot at the state quarterfinals.
"The first couple of games, you're always nervous," Poat said.
"You calm down, and you play better," added Puryear.
No. 2-seeded Michelle McKamey represented McCracken County well on Thursday, continuing her bid for a perfect postseason with an opening 6-0, 6-0 win over Paducah Tilghman's Natalie Lansden and followed with a 6-0, 6-0 demolition of Boyd County's Jessica Burton.
Not far behind her was fellow teammate and freshman Sophia Shiben, who as the No. 4 seed dropped Whitley County's Hannah Thomas 6-1, 6-0 and then lashed out against Owensboro Catholic's Caroline O'Nan 6-0, 6-0 in her quest for the today's quarterfinals.
Shiben's transition from being a top doubles partner with former Lady Mustang Madelyn Kauffman continues to go well, but even she admitted the move has been a challenge for her this season.
"To make the transition from doubles to singles, it's that you're always really good at doubles or you're really good at singles," Shiben said. "And sometimes there's not really a chance for the other one. But I feel like - especially as the years go on - that I can go farther and farther in the singles rounds."
McKamey plays Sacred Heart's Ella Reuff at 2:30 p.m., while Shiben plays Kentucky Country Day's Sarah Fazlagic at 8 a.m.
Comeback falls short
The Lady Mustangs nearly had a quartet of wins in the round of 32, but the No. 9-seeded seniors Allie Farmer and Erin Byassee fell just short to South Warren's Sydney Cassady and Natalie Noble 0-6, 6-4, 11-9.
After taking a tough goose-egg in the opening set, Byassee and Farmer made a strong last stand - rallying for the 6-4 win in the second set and staging a 5-1 lead in the tiebreaker.
But Cassady and Noble would close the contest on an 8-3 run in the rally-point, dashing hopes of a better finish.
"It was definitely a tough loss - knowing that it would be the last match," Farmer said. "We've come back from a lot of matches just like that."
"I'm proud of us," Byasse said. "Just talking to your partner and trying to get them up, too, is big."
Around the First Region
Paducah Tilghman girls tennis came away with two first-round wins, as junior Lara Shannon defeated Male's Shayla McKeever 6-2, 6-3 before falling to DuPont Manual's Nejla Zukic 6-3, 6-2. Its doubles team of Hannah Fischer and Anna West topped East Carter's Milena Clarke and Makenzie Hayes 3-6, 6-0, 1-0 (10) before being defeated by Scott County's Lauren Moore and Grace Gardner 6-2, 6-2.
Murray's doubles team of Kennedy Jones and Emily Kinsey rattled past Simon Kenton's duo of Mandy Berkmeier and Olivia Bowling 6-2, 6-2 before getting topped by Sacred Heart's Gracie Carnes and Kennedy Martin 6-2, 6-2.
Caldwell County's pair in Chasie Phelps and Hana Dixon beat Male's Anisa Bobzien and Victoria Branch 6-2, 2-6, 1-0 (10) before falling to Sacred Heart's No. 4-seeded doubles Natalie Chou and Abbi Birk 6-0, 6-0.
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