Platte County junior Jack Bralley (left) and junior Hayden Cook (right) placed eighth in doubles during the Class 2 MSHSAA Tennis Championships while senior Gavin Nichols (center) became a three-time medalist with a seventh-place finish in singles. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Nichols earns 3rd state singles medal, while Bralley/Cook finish 8th in doubles

Ahead of team semifinal, Platte County continued run of success with strong showings in individual brackets.

Gavin Nichols reached a point in Thursday’s Class 2 MSHSAA Tennis Championships singles tournament with a decision on an unspoken question about how his individual career would end.

Down a set in a consolation quarterfinal, Platte County’s senior star No. 1 fought all the way back for a 6-7 (4), 6-4, 10-4 tiebreaker win over Parkway North’s Phillip Pernik at Cooper Tennis Complex in Springfield. Pernik even led 4-3 in the second set but ended up in the match’s second tiebreaker with Nichols pulling away for a tight victory to guarantee his third state medal.

Nichols ended up going 3-2 over two days and placing seventh, matching his finish from a breakout freshman season. A four-time state qualifier, he did not medal as a sophomore in a tough draw and also claimed a career-best sixth as a junior.

“I’m not sure I’ve seen Gavin have to dig that deep before,” Platte County coach Zach Keith said. “Phillip was playing at a very high level, and Gavin found another gear about halfway through that second set and played incredible tennis to the set and win the super tiebreaker. “

Far and away the best and most accomplished player in the program’s 15-year history, Nichols might have encountered an even tougher path to a state medal than in 2022 when he went 1-2 with losses to the eventual fourth- and fifth-place finishers. He dropped his consolation semifinal on Friday but closed with a 6-2, 6-3 victory over Mehlville’s Edin Muminovic in the seventh-place match.

Platte County also sent at least one doubles team to state for a third straight year, and juniors Jack Bralley and Hayden Cook brought home the second set of doubles medals in program history. The Pirates’ No. 2 duo and Class 2 District 8 runner-up went 2-3 overall and placed eighth.

A big key for Bralley and Cook ended up an opening-round comeback that ended in a 2-6, 6-0, 10-3 tiebreaker victory over Warrensburg’s Quinn Conley and Oliver Staab.

After a quarterfinal loss to the eventual third-place finishers, Bralley and Cook won in straight sets over Rolla’s Cameron Cooper and Owen Kuchar (6-2, 6-4) to advance to Friday’s action. The final two matches were both losses, resulting in an eighth-place finish, but Grain Valley’s Ben Drinkwater and Trace Compton — the District 8 champions in a three-set tiebreaker win over Bralley and Cook — did not medal, showing off the importance of the draw.

Drinkwater and Compton lost in the quarterfinals to eventual state champions and in the consolation quarterfinals to Notre Dame (Cape Girardeau)’s Matthew Austin and Black Schreckenburg, who beat Bralley and Cook 6-4, 6-4 in the seventh-place match.

“Hayden and Jack had some incredible moments and played really well to earn their medals,” Keith said. “Not only did Hayden and Jack play well, but they gained valuable experience that will help them heading into their senior season.”

Having ascended to No. 1 in the lineup late in his freshman season, Nichols went on to became a four-time singles district champion — the only player in program history to achieve the feat even once. He owns an 86-40 career record with more than 150 career wins total when adding in doubles.

Nichols will graduate with every meaningful program record.

Having reached the quarterfinals in all four appearances, Nichols never reached the state semifinals to guarantee a top-four finish but consistently showed resolve. His career state record finishes at 10-8, and the two losses this year came to the eventual third- and fifth-place finishers.

“The Class 2 singles draw was the best I’ve seen since splitting into three classes,” Keith said. “Gavin had an incredibly difficult draw, and he played the best tennis I’ve ever seen him play and still finished seventh. I know people will the finish and not realize how difficult it was, but Gavin played great and had his best state tournament.

Bralley, who moved from No. 4 to No. 2 singles in a third year starting for Platte County, became the second two-time doubles state qualifier in program history, joining Nathan Vanek — a sixth-place state medalist with Jack Forrest as an all-senior duo in 2023. Nathan Vanek also played on the second state qualifying doubles team in program history with older brother Austin Vanek in 2022. That team went 0-2 after ending a drought of doubles qualifiers that dated back to the nascent stages of the program in 2010 (Ethan Savage and Aaron Stout).

Last year, Forrest and Nathan Vanek plus a team of Bralley and Jaron Cook, the older brother of Bralley’s doubles partner this season, became the first for Platte County to win a state doubles match. Bralley and Jaron Cook went 1-2 with the season ending in a loss to their teammates in a consolation quarterfinal.

Nichols and Bralley were the only returning starters for Platte County this season with Hayden Cook at the No. 3 spot in singles as part of a group of five first-year contributors.

Despite the turnover, Platte County’s new-look lineup that also features senior Aaron Vaughan (No. 4), senior Daniel Bunge (No. 5), junior Paul Havemeier (No. 6) plus doubles-only senior Quentin Miller earned the second consecutive Class 2 District 8 team championship to advance back to the playoffs. The first trip in 2023 ended with a quarterfinal loss to Helias, but the unprecedented two-year run of success now also includes the chance to play for the program’s first state trophy this week.

Platte County (15-3) recently came back to beat Warrensburg 5-2 in a quarterfinal victory. The Tigers led 2-1 out of doubles, which included a loss for Bralley and Hayden Cook later avenged in the state bracket.

The victory set up a state semifinal matchup for Platte County with Branson (19-7-1) on Friday back at Cooper Tennis Complex. The two teams actually met earlier this season with Platte County winning 7-2 in a dual the day before the Branson Doubles Invitational, a flighted tournament Platte County also won.

However, Keith noted that Branson’s lineup has changed since the matchup in early April. Platte County’s only losses this season were to Class 3 Park Hill, Park Hill South and Central (St. Joseph).

The winner between Branson and Platte County advances to the championship dual later Friday against either MICDS (11-3) or Westminster Christian (14-4). Those teams also met in the regular season, and MICDS won 7-2. The losers play for third place on Friday, as well.

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