A young Millbrook boys’ tennis team, boasting just one senior in its top six players, withstood weather delays, early deficits and the experience of a perennial power Saturday to unseat three-time defending champion Winston-Salem R.J. Reynolds, 5-4, in the NCHSAA 4A boys’ dual-team tennis championship.
Just as in the East regional finish that advanced Millbrook (19-3) to the title match, the championship required a come-from-behind win in doubles play.
Freshmen twins Michael and Matthew Moody battled from being down 3-0 to overtake Nate Rowell and Jimmy O’Brien of Reynolds, 10-8, at No. 3 doubles.
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“We held serve pretty well and then when we had our opportunities, we broke when we needed to, and that’s what propelled us to the ‘W,’ ” Matthew Moody said. “I thought it was a good thing for mine and his relationship to help us grow as a pair playing doubles this year. It was just big for everyone, especially (No. 1 player) Chris (Mahan), as a senior, making it bigger for all of us.”
Matthew Moody, who also won his singles match at No. 6 by defeating Jimmy O’Brien 6-2, 6-4, was named state championship MVP.
He is one of four freshmen in the Wildcats’ top six.
The No. 3 doubles matchup was a critical one after the teams decisively split the No. 1 and No. 2 doubles matches.
The teams were neck-and-neck all day, with three singles matches going to tiebreakers, and another ending in a set tie-break.
“It’s really exciting,” said Millbrook coach Scott Wofford. “I think all the guys are happy with how they did under pressure today, I certainly am. I’m kind of speechless. It was a great performance. That was a really tough team to beat, and for our No. 3 doubles guys to come through like that was a great day for them.”
The match, which started at 9:30 a.m. at Burlington Tennis Center, didn’t end until nearly 2:30 p.m. Rain forced the championship match to be relocated to the Piedmont Indoor Tennis Center in Greensboro. It was the first time in NCHSAA dual-team history the state championship had to be moved inside, said NCHSAA assistant commissioner Carolyn Shannonhouse.
When play resumed more than 90 minutes after games were halted, Millbrook held a 3-2 lead with the final singles match headed to a tiebreaker.
Reynolds No. 3 player Nick McDaniel took the tiebreaker 10-5 over freshman Logan Weber to win the singles match, leaving the teams knotted entering doubles play.
At No. 1 doubles, Millbrook’s Mahan and sophomore John Karlawish faced a tough match in Reynolds’ Jack Riazzi and Paul Yamane.
The pairs were familiar with each other, having met just a week earlier in the individual doubles state championship, which the Reynolds duo won.
Though Mahan defeated Riazzi 6-2, 7-6 (4) and Karlawish defeated Yamane 6-2, 3-6 (10-5) in singles play, the duo fell again, 10-2, in doubles competition.
Mahan, the team’s No. 1 player and lone senior in the top six, was glad to win the dual-team title.
“Taking it as a team is an amazing feeling because everyone gets a part of it,” Mahan said. “We expected to win the whole thing and we did, so we’re very happy about it. ... Every single match was pretty close and it was all intense. That’s what we expected in the state championship match and we just came ready to play.”
Mahan has committed to play tennis at Appalachian State next year.
Millbrook had proven itself through several close matches throughout the year, including a 5-4 state semifinal win over conference foe Broughton.
“I think being in the Cap Eight really helped us out, because that’s clearly the toughest conference in the state,” said freshman Austin Cobb, who teamed with Logan Weber to win No. 2 doubles, 10-3, in the final match to finish and clinch the title. “Facing either Wakefield or Broughton once a week, that’s going to be a 5-4 match every time, so the nerves didn’t really get to us after the first couple times. I think that’s what gave us the edge on Reynolds because they kind of just breezed through their season and then they got to the finals and we were probably the toughest team they had faced all year.”
Reynolds (20-5), the three-time defending champion, was making its fifth consecutive appearance in the state championship match. The last time they had lost in the title match, it was at the hands of Millbrook in 2009.
“Hats off to Millbrook,” said Reynolds coach A.J. Highsmith. “They played a great match. I think for whatever reason we were a little tentative in certain matchups and just waited a little too late to make that push. I thought that our experience would bid us well, but I think that they were just a little bit more fired up for whatever reason. ... Millbrook deserved it. They played better, point blank.”