The best part of Wednesday’s showdown for Surry County tennis supremacy may be that they’ll get to do it again in just 25 days.
The early part of the 2016 season had clearly established that Mount Airy and Surry Central each have a strong team and that they were the class of the county. On Tuesday, both teams beat their respective in-county conference rivals, the Granite Bears downing East Surry and the Golden Eagles doing the same to North Surry.
On Wednesday, Central took its crack at derailing Mount Airy’s perfect record. The Eagles didn’t pull it off, falling 6-3 on the Bears’ courts — but it could have been different, and you can believe that Surry Central will be gunning for revenge when the Mount Airy comes to Dobson on April 18.
The Bears (10-0) took four of the six singles matches, leaving them in need of just one doubles win in order to clinch the match. Mount Airy was able to take control of the match following the outcome of the Nos. 1 and 4 singles matches, both of which went to a match tiebreaker after the players split sets. Central needed to win both of the tiebreakers to secure a 3-3 split, but missed by just a few points. At No. 1, the Bears’ Hunt Harrison outlasted Zach Cochran and took the match 6-3, 4-6, (10-7) by winning the last four games of the tiebreaker. Cole Leonard won the other tiebreaker set at No. 4 singles, topping Emory Bray 1-6, 6-4, (10-4) to keep the Eagles alive, but just barely.
Mount Airy actually had its four singles wins in the bag before Central (2-2) won at Nos. 4 and 6. No. 2 Harrison Morris was the first to complete his match, downing Tanner Mears 6-1, 6-0. Harrison and Cochran were the next to get done, playing their match at a brisk pace despite the fact it was closely contested. Harrison rallied from a break down in the first game to win the first set, and then the two swapped wins on serve until Cochran earned a break at 5-4 and won set two to force the tiebreaker.
At No. 3, the Eagles’ Jose Montero gave a good account of himself against Mount Airy’s Gentry Williamson, but Williamson was able to win a number of points at crucial times in the match to ultimately claim a 6-4, 6-2 straight-set win. When Owen Perkins completed his 6-2, 6-4 victory over Austin Gravely at No. 5, Surry Central found itself in a deep hole even though it had pushed Mount Airy harder than any other foe had done all season long.
After Leonard came from behind against a game Bray to get the Eagles on the board, the No. 6 singles match was the only one still being contested. In that one, Central’s Brandon Norman trailed 2-3 in the first set but broke the Bears’ Hunter Eaton and then held serve himself to take the lead. From there, he held a steady lead for most of the two sets. Eaton was holding his own and held serve every time but once the rest of the way, but Norman eventually prevailed in another closely contested battle, topping Eaton 6-4, 6-3 to leave his team needing a sweep of the doubles to win.
Bray’s loss to Leonard was his first of the season after the freshman started the season, and his Mount Airy tennis career, with nine victories. Mount Airy coach Rodney Pell was pleased that his team had managed to hang in and beat the Golden Eagles, whose first five singles players are all seniors. By contrast, the only senior in the Bears’ lineup is Williamson.
“This was a good victory against a senior-laden team that has a very good chance to wins its conference championship,” he said.
Going into the doubles, Central coach Mark Parsons wasn’t disappointed in his team’s effort, but lamented the loss of the match tiebreaker at No. 1 and coming up short at 3 and 5. With a few favorable bounces, or better shots, his team could have been tied or maybe even ahead — but it wasn’t to be.
In any case, the Bears weren’t about to lose on their home courts. Williamson and Bray, despite having two of the tougher singles matches, immediately took control at No. 2 doubles and won the first five games against Mears and Gravely. However, the Eagles’ pair wasn’t giving up without a fight, and they staved off three match points before Bray finally held serve at 9-5 for the win. Even though that pair was the first to take command of their match, the honor of clinching the win actually went to the Bears’ No. 1 tandem of Harrison and Morris, who had gone back and forth with Cochran and Montero for a while before reeling off a series of wins and prevailing 10-4.
The last group on the court was the third doubles, where Leonard and Norman broke serve against Eaton and Grey Tucker three different times, only to see the two Bears respond twice and push the match to the limit before the Central duo held on for a 10-8 victory.
Mount Airy has nearly two weeks off before it returns to the court, and its next match should be another doozy, against Northwest Conference rival Bishop McGuinness on April 4 in Kernersville. The Eagles (2-2) will have to regroup for a Western Piedmont 2-A battle against Forbush (4-1) today in Dobson.
Reach John via Twitter at @johncate73.