Pike puts on good show in AAC tourney

By Matt Hill
STAR STAFF
mhill@starhq.com

   JOHNSON CITY--Credence Clearwater Revival's hit single "Proud Mary" in the late 1960's kept repeating the words rolling on the river. In 2002, Virginia Intermont's Brandon Pike doesn't sing, but he rolls on the tennis court.
   The former Elizabethton High standout breezed through the first two rounds in fight No. 2 of the Appalachian Athletic Conference's Men's tennis tournament on Thursday, and will play King College's Arturo Aguirre in Friday morning's finals at the Liberty Bell Tennis Center.
   "I think I'm playing pretty well," Pike said. "I'm looking forward to the finals tomorrow. I'm playing a tough player."
   The men's and women's tournaments are now held together, and the finals in singles started at 9 a.m. this morning.
   Pike was as impressive as anybody in the first day of action. Early in the morning, Pike defeated Nate Kraak of Montreat 6-4, 6-0 in his first match.
   Pike advanced to the finals by defeating Bryan College's Kent Suter 6-0, 6-1.
   Pike's play in Thursday's competition impressed Virginia Intermont tennis coach Ron Worrell.
   "Brandon Pike's playing very well so far in the tournament," Worrell said. "He's looking good, and if we can continue at this pace we should do well as a team."
   Virginia Intermont did do well as a team, as it made the finals in five of the six flights.
   Pike has lost to Aguirre twice so far this season, but Pike knows what it takes to defeat him.
   "It's going to take excellent play," Pike said. "I can't make any unforced errors. I'm going to have to be at the top of my game to beat him.
   Worrell believes Pike is a stronger player than he was at the first of the season, and should be ready for Aguirre.
   "Arturo is a tough player, and has a lot of weapons," Worrell said. "But he's learned from those losses. Hopefully, he can capitalize on what he's learned."
   It's been an almost miraculous season for Pike. After suffering a major leg injury while working at a local restaurant, Pike had to start out playing No. 6, but has now progressed into the two slot.
   "He really didn't get up to speed until past mid-season," Worrell said. "That's why he played down in the lineup."
   Pike did have his thoughts on Aguirre after his second match, but he also wants his team to win the tournament and advance to the nationals.
   "I'm glad to be in the finals," Pike said. "Us as a team, we're trying to win this tournament. We've been training for this, so hopefully things will work out.
   While Pike and the Cobras were having a great day, things did not go so well for Milligan on the men's side.
   No Milligan men's players made the finals, but there were still some good performances.
   Adam Campbell, Jon Michael Lukianoff and Patrick Mitchell all made the semifinals for the Buffaloes.
   Lukianoff played one of the day's more memorable matches in his 6-0, 3-6, 7-6 (7-5 in tiebreak) first-round win over Tennessee Wesleyan's Eric Pope.
   The Lady Buffaloes did have a successful day, as two players reached the finals.
   The first was Annie Echstrom, who advanced by defeating King's Jessica Varney 6-0, 6-1 and UVA-Wise's Jessica Hounshell 6-1, 6-1.
   Echstrom will play Virginia Intermont's Kago Phatsware in the No.1 singles final.
   "It's very exciting," Echstrom said. "We've worked hard this season, and I'm looking forward to playing."
   Echstrom believes she will have to play her best to beat the No. 1 seed.
   "A lot of consistency," Echstrom said when asked what it will take to win.
   Also making it to the finals for the Milligan women's team will be Jessica Conn. She advanced in No. 5 singles with a 6-2, 6-0 triumph over Tori McConkey.
   "I'm a freshman, and I didn't think I would go this far," Conn said. "I'm so excited."
   Conn will play Felicia Ruiz in the final, and she likes her chances.
   "I can stay with this girl," Conn said. "I've played her before, and I almost beat her last time. I really feel I have a shot.
   Former Elizabethton High star Sara Wallingford also had a nice day, as she made the semifinals for the Lady Buffs.