Team tennis matches don’t finish any closer than the one last week between Chapel Hill and Carrboro.
With the sun well behind the trees that line Carrboro’s western campus and the courts covered in shadow, the non-conference grudge match went down to a third-set tiebreaker in the final match before the Jaguars pulled out a 5-4 team victory.
Even that final match at No. 3 doubles went into extra play, featuring some of each team’s younges players. Carrboro sophomore Josh Zinn and freshman Jason Wykoff endured a nerve-wracking final rally of nearly 20 strokes with Chapel Hill’s Ryan Bradley and Alex Walker before winning the eighth point in a seven-point tiebreaker, winning the match 8-7 (8-6).
“Fantastic,” Carrboro coach Jon Noyes said as he contemplated the Jaguars’ win over their archrivals.
Carrboro came into the match as the state’s No. 1-ranked 2A team, Chapel Hill as the state’s No. 3 3A team. Both were undefeated before Tuesday.
And both of the cross-town rivals have high aspirations.
Carrboro, 20-2 a year ago, lost to Shelby 5-3 in the NCHSAA 2A championship. The 2014 Jaguars and return state singles runner-up sophomore Brian Freiburghouse, seniors Aaron Hiller and Paul Flournoy, junior Max Fritsch, and Zinn.
Chapel Hill also has back most of its top players from last year, led by No. 1 Bryan Zhang and Jared Weber. Chris Chang has returned at No. 2 singles for Chapel Hill after a year’s hiatus. The Tigers also have three newcomers in Ryan Bradley, and freshmen David Mirzoyan and Jason Wykoff.
The team match had gone into doubles tied at 3-3. Carrboro junior Max Max Fritsch, sophomore Brian Freiburghouse and Zinn won singles on courts 1,2 and 3. Chapel Hill rallied with wins by Bradley, Mirzoyan and Weber. Bradley, in his first year with the Chapel Hill varsity, fended off two match points and came back to win at No. 4 singles, 3-6, 7-6, 1-0 (7).
Fritsch and Freiburghouse won at No. 1 doubles, finishing one minute before Chapel Hill’s Bryan Zhang and Weber closed their win at No. 2. That set the stage for the dramatic finish Tuesday evening.
For Chapel Hill, the razor-thin decision was as tough to take as it was rewarding for the Jaguars. Tiger head coach Neil Alderman found some solace in suggesting: “I think we are looking at the 2A state champions there.”
“This is a backyard game,” Alderman said. “This matters a lot more to us than other matches. … It’s a disappointment, but they have a championship team.”
Chapel Hill had come into the match undefeated after four blowout wins. Those included a double-header sweep of Oxford Webb on Monday, in which the Tigers gave up just seven game in 15 matches.
Thursday, Chapel Hill improved to 5-1 in dual matches with an 8-1 victory Thursday at Cedar Ridge. Zhang, Bradley, Weber, Mirzoyan and Ashwin Bhargava all won their singles, followed by doubles wins by Chang-Zhang, Bhargava-Bradley and Weber-Daniel Ferreira.
Zac Marion was the Cedar Ridge player to win a single match, taking a 6-4, 4-6 (8) win over Chang.
Noyes , whose Jaguars were 4-0 after Tuesday’s win, said Chapel Hill was by far the best competition Carrboro had seen — or was likely to see before a March 25 visit to 4A Apex Middle Creek, which features defending individual state champion Nick Stachowiak.
As a freshman last year, Stachowiak went undefeated through the season on his way to the NCHSAA 4A championship.
The Mustangs also have three-time regional qualifier Justin Panepinto and four-year starter Edward McRowan, plus talented freshman Grant McGrew.