Tennis is probably the most predictable high school sport, but this is turning out to be upsetting spring for the favorites.
Panther Creek and Cardinal Gibbons both managed upsets to advance to the third round of the N.C. High School Athletic Association 4A team tennis playoffs.
Ninth-seeded Panther Creek continued the trend as the Catamounts defeated the No. 7-seeded Crusaders, 5-2, in a competitive match that took 2 hours, 39 minutes to conclude Monday on the Gibbons’ courts.
“I think it is great for tennis when there are that many good teams,” said veteran Gibbons coach Andrew Tuttle, whose team upset No. 2 seed Enloe to reach the third round. “It’s not like in the past when there was a march to the finals by the tops seeds. These were good matches, and there were more people out here watching us.”
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Panther Creek, which finished as the runner-up to Green Hope in the Southwest Wake Athletic Conference, opened the tournament traveling to Wilmington to beat No. 5 seed New Hanover. Next was a match down the road at top-seeded Green Hope, which had beaten the Catamounts twice in the regular season. Not this time.
“I think we have more confidence in ourselves,” said junior Trice Pickens. “We know who we are as a team and what we’ve got to do to win.”
Pickens won his No. 1 singles match 6-1, 6-2 and teamed with junior Siddhant Pal to win No. 1 doubles, 10-3. Pal won No. 3 singles, 6-1, 6-2.
Panther Creek suddenly is in position to return to the 4A championship match with one more victory. The Catamounts were the state runner-up ago.
“I think this year we’re more aware of what it feels like to lose in a big match,” Pal said. “We’re not taking anything for granted. We’re playing our hardest every match.”
The Catamounts also are suddenly tough to beat at No. 5 singles. Against Green Hope, freshman Rishi Kakkar rallied from a 5-1 deficit to win 7-5.
Against Cardinal Gibbons, Kakkar was down a break when he tied the second set at 6-6 and won the tiebreaker for a 7-6, 7-6 victory. The grueling match against sophomore Wyatt Schline lasted 1 hour, 48 minutes.
“My teammates motivated me when I was down,” Kakkar said. “This is a good team, and I know I need to show I belong here.”
Kakkar’s win gave Panther Creek a 4-2 lead after singles. Pickens and Pal scored the clinching fifth point with a 10-3 doubles victory.
Panther Creek’s other team point was from sophomore Alex Kim at No. 2 singles, 6-2, 6-0.
Scoring for Cardinal Gibbons were sophomore Caleb Suh at No. 4 singles, 6-0, 6-0, and sophomore Will Reese at No. 6 singles, 6-1, 4-6 (10-4).
“Our bottom guys gave us a chance to take it into doubles,” Tuttle said. “But Panther Creek is a very strong team at the top. They have a chance to win the whole thing.”