Back in mid-February, the idea of a winning a Two Rivers 3A Conference championship this spring wasn’t something that Grayson Adams and Brady Best thought was unrealistic.
Best was in line to return to a Corinth Holders baseball lineup that was going to be a favorite for the league title; Adams had been a member of the Pirate golf program which had dominated the conference of late.
Then, at about the same time, the duo decided it was time to try something new, so they went out for the tennis team.
“I decided to do it, like Feb. 26, or whatever the first day of practice was,” Best recalled Tuesday.
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Two months later, the Corinth Holders pairing left the Smithfield-Selma High School tennis courts with the league’s doubles championship, downing the SSS duo of John Ashley and Nathan Holt, 6-3, 6-3.
“I didn’t think we’d win it, for sure,” Best said. “I didn’t even know if I’d be good enough to play in the top six. I just wanted to play the best that I could. Today we just concentrated on finishing games and sets, closing out matches.”
On the singles side, Cleveland senior Dylan Betancourt continued his domination of the league, notching his second consecutive title and the third of his career.
Betancourt took the singles title when Nikhar Patel of Corinth Holders was forced to bow out with cramps in his legs and stomach in the second set of their match.
Betancourt took the first set of the championship match, 6-1, and was leading 4-2 when Patel, taking the advice of Corinth Holders’ Chris Davis, opted for the injury default instead of listening to his competitive side and trying to push on. He had to take a long break after the first set to try to work out the cramps.
“I felt like I really played well during the first set and after the break (at the end of the first set), I just wasn’t as sharp,” Betancourt said. “I felt like I was getting back to playing the way I wanted to a couple of games before he had to retire.”
Betancourt admitted playing his best while watching a respected opponent struggle to move on the court was tough: “You feel bad for the guy because I know the kind of competitor and player he is and you don’t want him to be hurt, but at the same time you’ve got to stay focused on what you need to do on the court.”
Betancourt is 15-3 on the season with his only losses to 4A players. He went 14-0 in conference.
“His service game has gotten stronger this year, especially his kick serve,” coach Emily Purvis said. “He’s added more bounce to it and that’s given him more confidence on serve. And overall, he’s just been a more confident player because of all of the work he’s put in sharpening all of his game.”
Betancourt credited the work he’s done with Paul Goode at the Raleigh Racquet Club as key to his season. The service game Purvis mentioned and his backhand (“It’s 10 times better than it was last year,” he said) are the major areas of improvement he’s felt in his game.
A back condition has made golf tougher and tougher on Corinth Holders’ Adams over the past couple of years, but swinging a tennis racquet hasn’t caused the same injury concerns the golf club did. Becoming a doubles team with his friend and fellow tennis rookie Best was a natural fit.
“I liked it from the start,” Adams said of the move from tennis. “It’s great competition but it’s not stressful.”
“I knew from the third day of practice, the first day we played doubles, that they had potential,” Davis said. “There was just a natural bond between them and confidence together. It was a yin and yang personality mix. Brady is ultra competitive and Grayson, he’s just a roll with it guy. Everything just rolls off of his back.”
Davis added that the mix of a lefty (Best) playing with a righty made the pairing a tougher match for opponents naturally as well.
It’s the fourth consecutive year a Corinth Holders team has won their conference’s doubles championship.
“Grayson just had that natural gift for shot placement and seeing the court from the start,” Davis said. “Brady is a really strong baseline player and he’s right-handed put plays left-handed so that makes his backhand a natural power stroke for him.”
The top four finishing teams in singles and doubles advanced to the individual regionals. Smithfield-Selma’s Tim Jones was somewhat of a surprise qualifier for regionals in singles play, advancing to the semifinals before falling to Betancourt. Cleveland’s Jay Waltman also made the semis, earning a regional trip as well.