Panther Creek is taking the Southwest Wake Athletic Conference to a place it’s never gone before: the N.C. High School Athletic Association boys tennis championship.
The Catamounts held off Millbrook, making its fourth consecutive appearance in the NCHSAA 4A East final, to win 5-4 on Wednesday and reach the title. Panther Creek is just seventh different East boys tennis champ since the dual-team playoffs started in 1991, joining Millbrook, Wakefield, Broughton, Chapel Hill, East Chapel Hill and Fayetteville Terry Sanford.
The Panther Creek girls are three-time defending champs, and the boys will get their shot to add to the school’s trophy case Saturday against Greensboro’s Page High at a time to be determined.
“When said at the start of the season we had three goals: we wanted to beat Green Hope, we wanted to get some guys to the individual state tournament, which we had never done, and we wanted to try to see if we could win the whole thing,” Panther Creek coach Nathaniel Blalock said. “We thought we could accomplish the first goal, we hoped we could accomplish the second goal and we dreamed we would accomplish the last one; and you know – dreams come true.”
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Millbrook forced doubles matches thanks to Josiah Schainblatt’s tiebreaker set victory at No. 4 singles against Panther Creek’s Sidd Pal, 6-2, 3-6, 10-4.
Panther Creek led 4-2 after singles, but Millbrook was strong in doubles.
In the third round, Millbrook trailed the same deficit but rallied to defeat Green Hope 5-4.
“I was very confident, not to sound conceited, but we are a good doubles team. I would have rather gone into the doubles 3-all,” Millbrook coach Craig Isdahl said. “It’s always hard to sweep doubles against good talent, and Panther Creek’s got talent.”
At No. 3 doubles, Millbrook’s Andrew Crabtree and Michael Moody made quick work of Panther Creek’s Aditya Kakkar and Nadir Bajwa, 10-3, to cut the lead to 4-3.
But at No. 1, Panther Creek’s Trice Pickens and Pal pulled off the 10-5 victory against Austin Cobb and Schainblatt to seal the win.
“In the beginning I kind of (felt the pressure), but feeling it doesn’t really help towards the ultimate goal of winning, so you’ve just got to turn it off to play your best,” said Pickens, a sophomore.
“I’m so lucky to have (Pickens) as my partner,” Pal said.
Seconds later, Millbrook’s Matthew Moody and Mohamed Alamonster won at No. 2 doubles 10-6 against Alex Kim and Donovan Lilov for the final score.
“It’s great to go this deep in the postseason, but it’s also disappointing in a way,” Isdahl said. “We’ll be graduating three of our top six and a total of seven seniors off of our squad. That’s a lot to replace, but we’re looking forward to next season.”
For Panther Creek in singles, No. 1 Pickens beat Matthew Moody 6-1, 6-2, No. 2 Kim defeated Cobb 6-2, 6-1, No. 3 Lilov downed Michael Moody 6-0, 6-3 and No. 6 Bajwa clipped Millbrook’s Andrew Lopez 6-1, 6-1.
The 4A championship is scheduled for the Burlington Tennis Center, but that may change with a forecast that calls for rain.