The Mount Airy tennis team’s pursuit of the state 1A dual-team title resumed on Tuesday evening, with the Granite Bears opening state playoff action with a 7-2 victory over visiting East Wilkes in the second round of the NCHSAA playoffs.
The team reached the 20-victory mark with the triumph, which saw the Granite Bears (20-2) win every match but the No. 5 singles and No. 3 doubles matches. Mount Airy had already clinched the team win following the end of singles play and didn’t have to play the doubles, but Bears coach Rodney Pell and Cardinals coach Aaron Simmons mutually agreed to play the match to its conclusion.
In a change of pace from most matches played by Mount Airy this season, the No. 6 singles match actually concluded first. The Bears’ Hunter Eaton got things off to a good start by dominating Josiah Sparks 6-1, 6-1. The second match to wrap up came at No. 4 singles, where Emory Bray was on his way to a double-bagel win over Nick Wooldredge before he was broken on serve while 6-0, 5-0. However, it was just a hiccup, as the sophomore promptly broke back to take the victory.
Wilkes earned its first team point at No. 5, where Grey Tucker struggled at the start of both sets and rallied, but couldn’t come all the way back. He lost the first three games of each set, which ultimately doomed him to a 6-4, 6-2 defeat.
Gentry Williamson got Mount Airy back on track with a 6-1, 6-2 victory at No. 3 in which he was broken on serve just once. State individual finalist Hunt Harrison got a battle at No. 1 that he didn’t expect. After trouncing Landon Osborne 6-0 in the first set, he faltered in set two, twice failed to hold serve, and lost the set 2-6. In the tiebreaker set, he won three of the first four points, fell behind 5-6, but then won five of the last six points to prevail 6-0, 2-6, (10-7). Harrison Morris finished his match last, a 6-2, 6-1 rout of Kyle Rhodes at No. 2 that made the victory official.
By rule, tennis teams in the dual-team playoffs can stop play as soon as they clinch the win, but the Bears elected to play on. Pell fielded a different lineup from what he had used for most of the regular season, since Morris and Williamson are in the state individual tournament as a team and the coach wanted them to have a tune-up before Friday’s state finals in Cary. They played at No. 1 singles and beat Osborne and Joah Logan 8-4. Harrison and Bray teamed up at No. 2 to beat Rhodes and Sales 8-4. Wilkes secured another team point when Wooldredge and Sparks rallied from a 2-3 deficit with two service breaks and topped Eaton and Owen Perkins 8-5.
It was the third victory of the season for Mount Airy over East Wilkes, the runners-up to Elkin in the Mountain Valley 1A/2A Conference. However, the other two came with the Cardinals (14-7) playing without one of their top players.
The Bears are now in the Elite Eight of the tournament, and the teams are so closely matched that anyone among the four remaining teams in the West Regional could win it. Mount Airy’s next opponent is Lincoln Charter (12-1), here on Monday evening. The Eagles’ lone loss came at the hands of Pine Lake Prep on March 8 and cost them the Southern Piedmont 1A title. The teams have East Wilkes as a common opponent, and Lincoln beat the Cardinals 5-4 on April 20. They have reached the state quarterfinals by checking off Highlands (6-0) and Albemarle (7-2).
The winner of the Mount Airy vs. Lincoln match will face either Elkin or Pine Lake Prep in the West Region final on May 18. If the Bears are in that game, they would host against either team by virtue of a better overall record.