Area duos in finals of AmSouth

Published 12:00 am Sunday, June 6, 2004

NATCHEZ &045; It had been three years since Natchez’s Joel Lessley had been a part of the AmSouth Bank Cancer Tennis tournament.

That, apparently, was long enough, as Lessley called tournament co-organizer Noreen Pyron and asked her if he could get back in for the 25th annual event, which benefits the local chapter of the American Cancer Society.

Pyron put him in touch with Troy LeBlanc, an avid player from Lafayette, La., and the pairing has benefited both.

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The duo, who ousted Richard Baron and Hal Fincher 6-1, 6-4 Saturday, face the New Orleans team of John Amoss and Ben Ward in the 4.0 finals at Duncan Park at 10:30 a.m. today.

&uot;I play my game and (LeBlanc’s) good at playing his,&uot; said Lessley, who said his job with the Home Hardware Center had prevented him from playing in previous years. &uot;We’ve really jelled together and it’s all worked out. We’ll take it from there (today).&uot;

Lessley and LeBlanc cruised in the opening set against Barton, another Lafayette player, and Fincher, who resides in Little Rock, Ark.

However, they found themselves down 4-1 in set two before recovering for the straight-set victory.

&uot;It was one of those matches where you go out and dominate the first set,&uot; Lessley said. &uot;Then, you get relaxed and before you know you’re down and you’ve got to pick it up. We were able to reel off five games for the win.&uot;

Amoss and Ward also disposed of their semifinal match in straight sets Saturday, winning 6-2, 6-3 against Lafayette pair Harold Lambert and Jimmy Percy.

Lessley said he and Ward have a little bit of history with one another, dating back to their adolescent years.

&uot;Ben and I were both juniors together at one time here,&uot; he said. &uot;It looks like he can still hit it good. He and his partner are in the final for a reason. We’ll see what happens.&uot;

Another Natchez pair in today’s finals is the sister-sister combination of Suzan Hogue and Jane Opperman, who had to go to three sets before moving past rivals Amanda Jeansonne and Augusta Smith, 6-2, 3-6, 6-4.

The foursome play on the same Natchez United States Tennis Association team together and always fight tooth and nail during every point.

&uot;We’re pretty evenly matched,&uot; Hogue said. &uot;We play all the time and always enjoy playing each other. It could’ve gone either way. Fortunately, this was our time to come out on top.

&uot;The other day Š they beat us. We love playing with each other and that makes it even better.&uot;

Hogue and Opperman enter today’s 9 a.m. 4.0 women’s final against the Baton Rouge twosome of Dawn Garraway and Dez O’Rourke, who bounced the Miss-Lou’s Jackie Handjis and Mary Ruth Caldwell, 6-3, 6-3 Saturday.

&uot;I don’t know much about them and haven’t been able to watch them play. I’m sure they’re tough,&uot; Hogue said. &uot;My sister Nancy (Laird) played them (Friday and lost) and said they were nice players.&uot;

Natchez State Farm agent Doug Nigreville, who is competing in the tourney in the 3.5 men’s doubles, said it’s a treat every year for the insurance company to lend its name to the annual event.

&uot;We love it because you get to meet new people every year and renew old acquaintances from previous years,&uot; said Nigreville, who has helped sponsor the event for the last nine years. &uot;I love the fact that it brings a lot of people to Natchez. This town has so much to offer.&uot;