On the final day of the Greater Neuse River 4A Conference boys tennis tournament Thursday, the singles and doubles brackets were polar opposites.
The singles bracket was dominated by freshmen Klein Evans and Naren Guha. The doubles side was controlled by two senior-laden teams: Evan Hall and Ethan Mitchell, and the surprise team of Joe Stewart and Collin Simpson.
The only similarity? Both sides saw a same-school matchup in the finals. Evans and Guha dominated singles play for Clayton, and the No. 1 and No. 2 doubles teams for Garner met for the crown.
“Garner has great seniors on doubles, and we have our power in singles,” Clayton coach Ken Stivason said. “That’s really what it came down to today. Seniors play better as doubles teams, and I knew Klein had a shot at getting seeded, which is very rare for our conference.”
During the regular season, Clayton and Garner rolled through the Greater Neuse River Conference, with the Clayton Comets going undefeated in league play and the Trojans finishing with just two losses. Both teams earned a spot in the state dual team playoffs as a result.
The doubles side followed suit as the No. 1 seed won the tournament, but it was not quite as easy for Hall and Mitchell.
The Garner seniors dropped the first set in the semifinals, but prevailed with decisive victories in the final set to defeat Jacob Motley and Aaron Turner from West Johnston. They also took down teammates Stewart and Simpson in the finals.
Hall and Mitchell ultimately won the two rounds with 3-6, 6-2, 6-3 and 6-4, 7-5 victories.
They now head to the regionals along with their teammates Stewart and Simpson. Motley and Turner, Chase Jones and Zachary Heath from East Wake, and Clayton’s duo of Brooks Campbell and Ian Bliss also advanced to regionals.
“We’ve been playing well all year and didn’t want to mess around,” Mitchell said. “We wanted to get in and get out with a victory, and it was a relief to know that a Garner team was going to win regardless of the outcome in the finals.”
His doubles partner said their confidence level is at its highest of the season heading into a crucial stretch as team playoffs and the regionals begin next week.
“We’re playing our best right now, and we’ve been preparing for this moment all season,” Evans said.
Evans’ domination has been apparent all season. He’s rolled to a 20-0 record, losing only three games in conference. He exhibited his skill with a clean sweep through four matches – losing just one game to earn the championship.
As Evans advanced to the finals with a 6-0, 6-1 victory over East Wake’s Will Clement, he met teammate Guha, who had a much tougher time getting to the finals. Guha fell behind in the first set to West Johnston’s Marcus Juarez, 3-2, in the semifinals, but he charged back to take the 6-4, 6-1 victory to face Evans.
Evans defeated his teammate 6-0, 6-0 to take the title, but said he enjoyed playing against Guha and looks forward to hopefully making some noise with him at the regional.
“This is huge for us,” Evans said. “Especially the fact that we are both freshmen … We’re going to see a lot of guys that are a higher level of competition than what we had here. If I just do what I do, I think I should be fine.”
For Guha, he still considers advancing to the finals as a success regardless of the outcome.
Clement and Juarez will also advance to the individual regionals competition, which begins May 3 at Terry Sanford High School. In the match for the final spot in the regionals, Cliff Johnson from Smithfield-Selma defeated Patrick Snow, 6-4, 0-6, 6-2, as the only Spartan to advance.