Lincoln doubles team reaches regional final, qualifies for state

Published 1:34 pm Wednesday, May 29, 2024

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They were never supposed to play together, they were never supposed to win, and they never let that stop them. Two Lincoln County boys made a remarkable run to the finals of the regional tennis tournament, shocking some of the best players in the 12th Region and earning a spot in the state tournament.

Xavier Paver and Toby Sallee came up just short of a championship in the boys’ doubles bracket at the 12th Region Tournament, but their disappointment about that defeat was dwarfed by their delight in what they achieved to get to the finals.

Seeded eighth and having played only four matches together before the regional, they knocked off a couple of teams they weren’t supposed to beat, including the No. 1-seeded team from Casey County, before bowing in the title match last week at Millennium Park in Danville.

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“It was a blast,” Sallee said. “It was just so much fun to come out here and just shock people, and once we got past Casey we knew we had our ticket punched. We knew that we were going to go all the way to the championship. Unfortunately, we couldn’t close it out, but it doesn’t tarnish what we were able to do.”

Sallee and Paver were paired for a late-season match against Casey County because Paver’s regular doubles partner, with whom he had played for three seasons, was away on the senior trip.

“We ended up beating Casey, and it was just a shock,” Paver said.

That 9-7 win over Casey’s Major Vaughn and Owen Willoughby ensured that they would continue to play together in the postseason, and it infused them with confidence when it came time to play them again in the regional quarterfinals after they had won first- and second-round matches.

“We knew we could do it because (we had done it) in our first-ever doubles match together,” Sallee said.

Paver, a senior, and Sallee, a junior, defeated Vaughn and Willoughby 6-2, 7-5 in the rematch, then won once more to reach the finals, where they fell to Aiden Cheng and Aiden Webb of Pulaski County 6-7 (5), 6-3, (10-5).

“We just had a burning desire to come out and to win over the past week,” Sallee said. “And that got us through (the first four rounds) because nobody expected us to be here, nobody counted on us to be here.”

Sallee and Paver hoped they had some surprises left for the state tournament, which began Tuesday at the University of Kentucky in Lexington.

“I like the thought of just being these nobodies from a small town who can go out there and have a chance to upset (a ranked team),” Sallee said. “We’re just going to try to put ourselves in every match that we play, just look for some of the same magic that we found here in this tournament.”

The two boys believe their contrasting styles have blended well in the short time they have played together.

“I think the reason why we work so well together is we are completely different in body types,” Paver said. “Toby’s a lot more of a passive guy … but I’m more all-around aggressive.”

“And we have completely different play styles, yet they’re complementary,” Sallee added. “Our coach put it best: He said Xavier brings the fire and I can bring the ice. It’s just two totally different mindsets.”