Apollo duo finished fourth at districts, first at state

Flabbergasted and outfoxed by a duo of swashbuckling Jesuit freshmen last Saturday at the Metro League Tennis Championships, Sunset boys' double team of Brian McKittrick and Ian Paik could've self-destructed.

A fourth-place finish in Metro was exactly what the senior combo wanted to avoid as their final swan song. McKittrick and Paik let trivial things like bad calls and poorly strung rackets negatively affect their play against Jesuit's Tommy Mulflur and Andrew Newell in the district semis, and it cost them a district championship. However, in the week leading up the 6A state championship rematch at Tualatin Hills Tennis Club on Saturday, the Apollos went about hatching a plan that would restore order both in the Metro League and state pecking order.

After falling behind early 2-0, McKittrick and Paik reeled off four straight victories and won the first set 6-3 over the fresh-faced freshmen. With the throttle down, the Sunset collaboration broke Mulflur's serve in the second game and furled to a 6-3 second set win to take the 6A doubles' state championship and atone for what transpired last week. McKittrick and Paik looked at themselves in the mirror, swilled their complications and spit out a long-awaited state TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Sunsets Brian McKittrick comes to the net as doubles partner Ian Paik watches against Jesuits Tommy Mulflur and Andrew Newell in the 6A boys doubles tennis championships at the Tualatin Hills Tennis Center.

“Districts was a really good wakeup call for us,” said Paik. “It gave us a really good idea of what to work on against them. We figured it out and then executed today and got the result we wanted.

“It feels absolutely great, last time I'll ever put on a purple jersey and then we're going to have gold? It's unbelievable. I can't think of a better way to go out.”

McKittrick said the tandem was a lot more aggressive, closing at the net and putting away balls when given the slightest opportunity. Newell and Mulflur were quicker and faster in space, but the bigger, more powerful Apollo combo played to their fortes, utilizing their length to roundhouse volleys in the frontcourt.

“Those two have been playing tennis for years,” said Paik. "They're really seasoned players, even as freshmen, so we knew we had to keep closing, stay aggressive and we'd have it.”

It was a match of contrasting styles, with Sunset bringing the strength and seasoning and Jesuit displaying youthful exuberance and rabbit quicks. Sunset looked and played like the older team that had been there and done that in the past, especially in the 6-3 first set win. by: TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Sunsets Ian Paik celebrates with friends after he and his doubles partner, Brian McKittrick, defeated Jesuits Tommy Mulflur and Andrew Newell for the  6A boys doubles tennis championships at the Tualatin Hills Tennis Center.

“We came out a little tight, but all in all, hats off to them,” said Mulfur. "They played a great match. They handled the atmosphere and the day in itself really well. We did our best, but we came out a little frazzled. Maybe today, our age caught up to us a little bit.”

Last year Paik and McKittrick didn't get the result they yearned for when they finished second overall at state, but that experience of playing in front of an overflow throng with cameras flashing and the pressure mounting was invaluable on Saturday. With a blue state title trophy hanging in the balance, McKittrick and Paik weren't going to let last year or last week's tension get the best of them.

“It's such a big stage with so much crowd support, I think our experience helped us stay grounded, stay aggressive and not get psyched out from it,” said McKittrick. “At districts we had a little bit of nerves and I think our age helped us break through those today.

“It felt like it was all or nothing this year. We were seniors who took second last year, so not getting what we wanted at districts gave us a lot of drive to work hard in the week we had to prepare,” added McKittrick. “We didn't back down at all. Last time we were a little tentative, and today, we just stayed aggressive and that made a big difference.”

For Newell and Mulfur, the next budding doubles' dynasty in boys' tennis was put on ice, at least for now. Who knows what the future holds for each gifted underclassman, both of whom are talented enough to potentially win state championships flying solo, but seem to love playing with each other and have a magnanimous chemistry on the court. They shelled out more fist pumps than the cast of MTV's Jersey Shore, competed with pizzaz and synergy similar to a double-play combination in baseball.

Newell said the experience they garnered will pay off in the future. He acknowledged Paik and McKittrick were the bigger team with bigger groundstrokes and serves, but for the Crusader freshmen, it was all about learning for the future.

“We're just trying to give our best and make it entertaining for all the people who are coming to watch. Having all the people watch and your teammates supporting you and everyone just being there for you... I think that's what I'm going to take away most,” said Newell. “If we would've had our usual start at the beginning, it would've been a lot closer. They started better and that took them to the win.”

“We're incredibly happy,” said Mulflur. "It's not the result we would've liked, but it was a great run and a fun couple weeks. If you think about it, there's only three of us from Jesuit playing today, but it felt like a heck of a lot more. We're all out here supporting each other, hanging out, having fun, and for me, that was a big thing."

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