One could forgive Mount Airy’s tennis team if it were to laugh a bit at some of the latest N.C. Tennis Coaches’ Association 1A polls.
The Bears had been ranked in the top five for most of the season before tumbling to the bottom of the rankings in the final two weeks, despite only losing to fourth-ranked Bishop McGuinness in a close match. What made the drop even more silly was that the Granite Bears fell behind two other teams they had beaten handily during the regular season.
One of them was Mount Airy’s first-round playoff foe on Wednesday. The Bears clobbered East Wilkes 5-1 in a match where it wasn’t even necessary to play the doubles. The No. 6-ranked Cardinals (11-5) had been thrashed 8-1 by Mount Airy back on March 15, but went on to win a share of the Mountain Valley 1A/2A title this season. They fared no better in the rematch, again winning only at No. 6 singles as their season came to an end.
The match came down to the final singles match on the courts. Mount Airy (13-3 overall) had won four of five singles matches, and the Cardinals’ Josiah Sparks needed to pull out a tiebreaker set against second-seeded Harrison Morris in order to even get to the doubles. Sparks had broken Morris twice in the second set to reach the tiebreaker, but Morris took over after losing two of the first three points, winning five in a row to lead 6-2. Sparks closed to 8-6, but Morris won the final two points and won the match 6-0, 4-6, 1-0 (10-6).
None of the other singles matches were particularly close. The only other one that saw the losing player win as many as six games was the No. 6 singles, where Wilkes’ Dylan Ward beat Ryan Graham 6-4, 6-2. That win put the Cardinals on the board after three straight Bear victories.
Kaleb Morrison was the first to put a point on the board. Playing at No. 4 singles, he dropped the second game on serve against Abram Sparks and then won 11 straight to win 6-1, 6-0. Fifth-seeded Owen Perkins made it 2-0 when he double-bageled Ty Cleary. Top-seeded Emory Bray was next up. He trailed Nick Wooldredge 2-1 in the opening set, but then won the next two games to move back in front. He ultimately won nine of the last 10 games to take the match 6-3, 6-1.
Hunter Eaton, playing third singles, got the Bears back on track after the Cardinals won at No. 6. Eaton won the first five games against Easton Wagoner, then dropped a break but finished out the set. Wagoner gave him a hard fight in set two. Eaton won the first five games again, but then Wagoner saved six match points and scored a break on his way to closing to 5-4. Wagoner actually was on serve to tie when Eaton broke him back and took the win 6-1, 6-4.
That brought it down to the No. 2 singles match, where Morris outlasted his man and locked up the win. In playoff tennis, the match ends as soon as one team gets five points, so the Bears advanced without playing doubles.
Mount Airy will travel to North Stanly on Tuesday for the second round. The Comets are tied with East Wilkes as the state’s sixth-ranked 1A team, and are unbeaten this season at 12-0.
Reach John via Twitter at @johncate73.