Pike, Dove earn shot at doubles championship

By Matt Hill
STAR STAFF
mhill@starhq.com

   MEMPHIS--At 6 p.m. during the first day of the Class A/AA girls doubles tennis tournament in 2002, Amanda Pike and Liz Dove had already returned to the house following a first-round loss.
   At that same point on Wednesday, the Lady Cyclone duo experienced a little different feeling.
   A 6-3, 6-2 win over Kingston's Amy Smith and Hannah Sherrod in the quarterfinals and a thrilling 6-0, 6-7 (7-3 in tiebreak) 6-2 victory over Mt. Juliet's Victoria Reed and Crystal Harwell made Dove and Pike the first Elizabethton tennis players to play for a state championship since Brandon Pike did in 1999.
   "I'm excited knowing that I'm in the same shoes he was a couple of years ago," an elated Amanda Pike said, who happens to be Brandon's sister and is the third person in her immediate family to play for a state championship. "It's really exciting."
   The two players were determined not to let what happened last year happen again. Dove also felt motivated to avenge that loss to a team from the University School of Jackson against another private school in the semifinals.
   "It's really exciting," Dove said. "We knew what we had to do. We came out here and we proved that a little public school could take it to a private school."
   The two matches Pike and Dove played had a lot of similarities to them, only the semifinal got a little more hairy for the Lady Cyclones.
   The EHS team started brilliantly in the opener, using good placement and good shot making to take a 4-1 lead.
   Sherrod and Smith battled back to win the next two games, then had two break points on Dove's serve to tie the first set.
   Pike and Dove regrouped to win that game, then took the next one to close out the set.
   Pike and Dove had little trouble in the second set, as they advanced to the semifinals.
   Against the team from Mt. Juliet, Pike and Dove played an almost perfect first set, only to have the wheels fall apart in the second.
   Pike and Dove fell behind 5-2 in the second before regaining momentum to take a 6-5 edge.
   But the EHS team lost the next two games, including a 7-3 tiebreaker to send the semifinal into a third set.
   EHS head coach Danny O'Quinn thought nerves played a big role in the struggles.
   "In the second set, they were up 6-5 serving for the match and Amanda double faulted, which she rarely does," he said. "I'm sure nerves were a big part of that."
   After the second set was over with, Pike knew they had to just forget about it.
   "We just knew that the second set was kind of one of those times that we were not hitting our shots," Pike said. "We knew we had to go out there and play smart, because we weren't. We knew we had to get our game together and play our shots."
   That they did.
   After Harwell and Reed broke EHS to get the match back on serve at 3-2, Pike and Dove then went into a zone where they started placing their shots well and hitting it away from the net person.
   The result was three-straight games and a spot in today's finals.
   "They're great kids," O'Quinn said. "And it all started last year when Amanda was a freshman and Liz was a junior. They just looked like they were meant for each other. This year they came out strong from the beginning. Their hard work and dedication have paid off for them."
   Dove thought things were getting away from them in the second set, but knew they had to just block all the distractions out.
   "In the second set, we got a little un-nerved about some calls and we let that get into our heads," she said. "But we knew we could come back in the third set. We just let the second set slide."
   It was definitely a team effort in reaching the final. Pike was very complimentary about her partner's play in the two matches.
   "She played awesome today," Pike said.
   Dove also felt like O'Quinn had a big role in the victory.
   She wanted this not only for the team, but also for her coach.
   "This is definitely good for him, too," Dove said. "I know how bad he wants to win. He wants to win as much as we want to win."
   Pike and Dove will quickly get this great day out of their minds, and focus on winning a state championship. Pike and Dove will play David Lipscomb's Brittany Stewart and Leigh Ellen Bruce.
   Dove is confident about the team's chances.
   "I think we can play a good match," Dove said. "I know it will be tough, but we just have to keep our strategy and not get impatient.
   O'Quinn is also feeling pretty good about the final.
   "It will be tough," she said, "but we can do it if we come with our heads in the game and ready to play."