About the only thing that pleased East Chapel Hill boys tennis coach Nick Walker more than the facility at River Birch Tennis Center was the Wildcats’ result on the courts Monday.
East Chapel Hill beat D.H. Conley 5-1 in a third-round matchup in the N.C. High School Athletic Association 4A dual-team boys tennis playoffs.
The Wildcats (18-4), of the PAC-6 Conference, advance to face Panther Creek, a 5-2 winner over Cardinal Gibbons, in the East 4A final scheduled for Wednesday. The winner earns a berth in the state championship at Burlington Tennis Center on Saturday.
“For us to be in the final four is kind of a surprise because we lost four starters from last year,” Walker said. “We didn’t look that far down the road. We’ve got a good draw, and we’re in the state semifinals. It’s kind of exciting.”
Jaxon Wiley, the Vikings’ No. 1 singles player, matched hard groundstrokes with East Chapel Hill’s Kevin Huang to earn a 6-4, 7-5 victory in a contest that lasted 1 hour, 40 minutes.
Wiley’s victory was not lost on Conley coach Ken Whitehurst in spite of the team loss, which had been determined a half-hour before the No. 1 singles match concluded.
“We’re thrilled to be here,” he said. “East Chapel Hill had quality depth that we weren’t able to match. We’re thrilled with what Jaxon did at (No.) 1. When you’re one of four left (in the 4A East) – and, truthfully, the other three are Research Triangle/Raleigh (teams), where there’s some cultural advantages with club tennis and some of the things they do – it’s an amazing accomplishment to be the one that’s left.”
East Chapel Hill’s quality depth took control – quickly.
Graeme Zimmermann topped Storm Davis 6-1, 6-0, and Ben McLean beat Connor Christian 6-1, 6-1. The Vikings’ Will Whitehurst was knotted at 3 in the first set with Rahul Singh before Singh took over to win 6-3, 6-0. Sidharth Sirdeshmvkh beat Mason Robinson 6-0, 6-0, and Rutledge Smith took care of Grant Donley 6-1, 6-1.
“We’ve played an incredibly tough schedule all year, and won a lot of close matches,” Walker said. “Sometimes, that benefit starts paying off for you in the playoffs.”
In contrast, D.H. Conley (14-1) had dropped only two team points in its dual-team matchups all season. The Vikings won all 10 of their Eastern Carolina 3A/4A Conference matches by a 9-0 count.
Whitehurst has watched D.H. Conley advance a round further into playoffs in each of the last three years. The Vikings lost to Panther Creek in the first round two years ago, and to Green Hope in the second round last year.
“I’m really proud of what they’ve done,” Whitehurst said. “It’s an amazing run, unprecedented at Conley. ... Even though today didn’t end as a group the way we wanted it to, we’re thrilled with what they’ve been able to do.”