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Gil Bagang and James Montgomery hold the lunch pail that has been their inspiration all season.

WILLIAMSBURG—Going into this season, North Laurel tennis coach Bobby Smith wanted something to give his boys’ team an inspiration to achieve the goals that he set for them.

After all, the Jaguars had been region runners-up for two years straight, and Smith felt like this year’s squad could also contend, despite losing some talented players.

So Smith decided his team needed to be hard-working, so he looked for something to symbolize that. He found an old, beat-up lunch pail on eBay, and told his team to just imagine who took that to work each day, and the long hours they put in.

“I wanted to symbolize what we were going to do, come out everyday and go to work,” Smith said.

And, to add a little incentive to it, he taped a photo of the University of Kentucky tennis complex on the pail, the site of the boys’ state tournament.

Friday night, that pail, along with hard work, paid off for the doubles team of James Montgomery and Gil Bagang, as they advanced to Saturday’s region final match, which also assured them a berth in this week’s state tournament.

“It inspired us,” Bagang said.

“We might not have the best strokes, but we find a way to win,” Montgomery added.

To get to the finals, the Jaguar duo had to defeat the team of Neely and Carmack from Clay County in the quarterfinals, which they did, 6-1, 6-4.

“This was a big win,” Smith said.

After cruising in the first set, Montgomery and Bagang fell behind 3-1 in the second set before holding serve at 3-2, then breaking serve to tie the match, 3-3.

From there, North Laurel won three of the next four games to take the second set, 6-4. Montgomery and Bagang both held serve in those final four games to secure the win.

“I’m speechless,” Montgomery, a senior, said about advancing to the state tournament for the first time in his career. “All that hard work we put in during the off-season paid off.”

Bagang was equally as thrilled, as he will be making his second straight state appearance, having gone in singles last year.

“It feels great, especially to share it with my good buddy,” Bagang said.

The North team faced Corbin’s No. 1 seeded team of Freeman and Crawford Saturday in the finals. The Corbin duo won both regular season matches.

Walden falls in quarterfinals

After nearly three hours on the court in less than ideal weather, Corbin’s Taylor Jones, the No. 4 seed and two-time region runner-up, downed South Laurel’s Blake Walden in an exciting three-setter, 6-7, 6-4, 6-4.

“Those two were pretty evenly matched,” South Laurel coach Aaron Smallwood said. “Blake seemed to be more aggressive when he played him at Corbin during the regular season. I felt like he fell into Jones’ game. Taylor did a good job at not hitting short balls that we could attack. We also made too many errors.”

Walden, seeded third, beat North Laurel’s Nathan Eberhardt, 6-0, 6-0 to reached the quarterfinals, where he took the first set against Jones in a tiebreaker, 7-5. Jones came back to take a 4-1 lead in the second set before Walden cut it to 4-3, but after a short rain delay, Jones took the second set, 6-4.

Jones raced out to a 3-1 lead in the third set before Walden broke the Corbin player’s serve, then held serve to tie the match at 3-3. He again broke Jones’ serve to take a 4-3 lead, but Jones regrouped and won the next three games and the match.

In other action, South Laurel’s Dustin Herron fell to No. 4 seed William Tan, 6-1, 6-1. The South Laurel doubles team of Mason Smith/Derek Turner fell to Montgomery/Bagang, 6-1, 6-0.

“We knew that would be a tough match going in,” Smallwood said. “They played well, but lacked experience. But they did get a couple of points for our team.

North Laurel’s Alex Douglas/Max Swartz lost to Akers and Uy of Middlesboro, 6-1, 7-6.

“They played probably the worst first set we could play,” Smith said. “They played better in the second set, and we felt like if we could have gotten it to a third set, we would have a chance.” The North duo beat Whitley County’s Lowrie/Kelly 6-7 (4), 7-5, 7-5 to reach the semi-finals.

In girls’ action, North Laurel’s Mikaela and Makenzie Prichard lost to No. 1 seeded Smith and Gray from Clay County, 6-2, 6-1, while South Laurel’s team of Brianna Smith/Emily Abner fell 6-4, 6-4 to Paul/Bryant from Whitley County.

“They played well,” Smallwood said of Smith and Abner. “That match could have gone either way. Most of the time the breaks went to Whitley County. Both of those girls are seniors, and should be proud of the career they had at South Laurel.”

Smith was proud of his team’s performance against the No. 1 seeds.

“They played some good games,” Smith said of the Prichard sisters. “They came along way to get to the region and make it to the quarterfinals. That was a big jump from last year.”

In singles, South Laurel’s Whitney Gay and Lyndsay Collette both fell in the quarterfinals. Gay lost 6-1, 6-0 to No. 1 seed Jessica Baker of Knox Central, while Collette, the No. 5 seed, lost 6-1, 6-1 to No. 2 Sarah Burchell.

“Whitney played hard against the No. 1 seed,” Smallwood said. “I’m real proud of her. She should be proud of herself and her career here. She did a lot for the program.”

“Lyndsay actually played well, like she did the first time against Burchell,” Smallwood noted. “Both girls improved throughout the season, but today, Sarah was a little more consistent. I know Lyndsay will work hard in the off season and be ready to compete next year.”

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