Senior Matt Daly knew that in order to make history at Cardinal Gibbons he needed to avoid being part of another tennis player’s record-setting moment.
Daly battled with Charlotte Catholic’s Kyle Johnson in Saturday’s Class 3-A state final before falling 6-3, 6-4 at Burlington Tennis Center as Johnson became the first four-time singles champion in North Carolina High School Athletic Association history.
“I just wanted to win and I wanted to stop him from winning four years in a row,” Daly said. “That was the goal, and to try to win my first state championship.”
Instead, Daly could only threaten Johnson’s reign.
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The Cardinal Gibbons doubles team of Killian Steer and Matt Galush also finished as state runner-up, losing 6-3, 6-3 to Statesville’s Parks Thompson and Julian Hawkins.
Daly, who was attempting to be Cardinal Gibbons’ first singles state champion on the 3-A level, tinkered with an upset after Johnson won four consecutive games for a 4-1 second-set lead. Daly won the next two games and, down 4-3, had a break point.
Johnson’s next three serves were unreturnable.
“He just ripped a couple first serves. He brought out his weapons when he needed them,” Daly said.
Daly responded to close the gap again, holding a double break point.
The record-setting point came when Daly’s service return sailed long. Johnson has an 89-7 high school record in singles, losing only one set in regional and state competition.
“He was just too good for me,” said Daly, who’s headed to play for College of Charleston.
Charlotte Catholic coach Ken Hazen said he was concerned after Daly breezed past Eastern Wayne’s Chaz Fitzpatrick 6-1, 6-0 in the morning semifinals because Johnson was lodged in a longer match with Western Alamance’s Eric Greene in a rematch of the 2011 final.
“He had to hit a lot of heavy shots in that match,” Hazen said of the 6-1, 6-4 triumph.
Johnson said he was aware of the competition and that his past three championships had little meaning when he was on the courts Saturday.
“I hoped I handled it well,” Johnson said. “It was tough and he’s a great player and he easily could have taken this state championship and the same for (Greene).”
Johnson, who won in the semifinals last year against Daly, started the final strong. Time and time again, Daly extended points and appeared ready to push Johnson.
“I think when Kyle is down a break point, he’s going to step up his game,” Cardinal Gibbons coach Andrew Tuttle said.
In doubles, Steer and Galush couldn’t develop consistent timing against the Statesville entrant and it resulted in a frustrating conclusion.
“Two championships would have been better,” said Steer, a senior who was part of a 2011 doubles state championship. “It was a letdown. We had a good amount of opportunities and couldn’t capitalize at the right moments.”
Tuttle said, “They were both off at the same time and we couldn’t afford to be off at the same time in this match.”
Steer and Galush, a freshman, advanced to the final by dispatching the Charlotte Catholic tandem of Matthew Martinez and Zach Sachee by 6-3, 6-0 in the semifinals. The Cardinal Gibbons duo had lost a total of two games in cruising through two rounds Friday.
The Crusaders will return to Burlington on Saturday for the dual-team state finals if they can win two matches this week.