Harrison Morris and Hunter Eaton had never played doubles competitively this season until last week. Now, they’re headed to the regionals as one of the top seeds.
Morris and Eaton, who were paired up for the first and only time in the regular season on April 20 in the finale at Galax, entered the Northwest 1A Conference doubles tournament as the second seed, but as heavy underdogs to Bishop McGuinness’ Henry Kirby and Jimmy Dasher, who had played together all season and lost just once in conference play, against a pairing that included Mount Airy’s Emory Bray, who chose to enter the singles tournament.
But that’s why they play the matches on the courts, and not on paper…
Morris and Eaton lost the first set of the championship match on Thursday and were essentially even in set two when rain caused the teams to suspend play until Friday. On a sunny spring afternoon, they finished up the second set and won it, but then faltered in the third set. Late in the set, Kirby and Dasher held championship point three different times.
They saved all three, evening set three at 5-5, then held serve to go up 6-5, and blanked the Villains in the last game to take the championship themselves, 4-6, 6-4, 7-5. Morris and Eaton had lost the first three games of the third set before battling their way back into the match.
It was a surprising ending to an evening that had already seen Bray, who had a perfect 15-0 record going into the singles’ championship, fall 6-4, 6-3 in the finals to Bishop’s Sam McDonald, the Villains’ No. 2 singles player during the regular season. Bishop had aimed to take the doubles title by keeping its top team together, while the Bears had tried to take the singles with their best individual — but the outcomes were reversed on championship day.
Regardless of the high drama of the finals matches, all four finalists had already punched their tickets for the 1A West Regional on May 4 and 5 at Elkin Municipal Park. The NW1A gets two playoff representatives in the singles and doubles tournaments this season. However, there is always a big rivalry when the Bears and Villains meet, and no one wanted to lose on Friday.
Bray knew the singles final would be as challenging as any match he’d played all season. Although the Mount Airy junior had won twice at No. 1 singles this season against Bishop, there is little or no difference in the quality of the Villains’ top three singles players. He’d had to come from behind to beat their No. 3, Alex Chinnasami, in the semifinals, and when the final commenced on Thursday, he fell behind a break at the start of the first set and ended up losing it. Bray was leading the second set 2-1 when the rains came, but then he lost a break right away on Friday. They traded breaks and then each player held, but that was enough for McDonald to hand Bray his first defeat of the 2018 season, and earn the Villains their first-ever NW1A singles title.
Now Bishop was looking to do what Mount Airy had done the year before, and surprise everyone by taking both tournament titles. For a time, it looked like it would be a villainous day to be a Bear — literally.
Kirby and Dasher led the doubles final by a set when play resumed, but set two was 2-2, with Morris and Eaton serving up 30-15. They held and took the lead in set two to begin Friday. They were broken at 5-3, but immediately broke back and took the second set. This meant a full third set, since tournament play doesn’t call for match tiebreakers. Unfortunately, Kirby and Dasher immediately seized the momentum back and rolled through the first three games of the deciding set. Morris and Eaton battled back to win the next two games, and then the teams traded wins to 4-5, with each breaking the other. However, this put the Villains one game from the title. Three times in the next game, they were one point away — but Morris and Eaton won all three points, and then won the game as well. Now it was 5-5, and the momentum was with the underdogs. They held serve to lead 6-5 and earned a chance to win the title themselves. At 15-0, Eaton fell while trying to get to a ball, but quickly recovered his racket and managed to keep the ball in play. They won the point to lead 30-0, and that was pretty much it. They won the next two points and the championship.
The Bears don’t have an automatic bid in the dual-team playoffs that begin next week, but know they will be receiving a wild-card berth. They will play a to-be-determined first-round opponent on Wednesday.
Reach John via Twitter at @johncate73.