CARY — Mount Airy has a doubles team back in the state finals for the fifth-straight year.
The Granite Bears have won three of the past four state 1A doubles titles and finished as runnerup in the other year.
They will have a chance for a three-peat when Mitch Kessler and Eric Belton take the court at 9 a.m. at the Cary Tennis Center. If it is raining, the match could be moved up to 8:30 a.m. at N.C. State’s indoor courts.
To reach the finals, the pair had to grind out back-to-back three-set wins in the quarterfinals and semifinals.
They opened play against the second-seeded team from the eastern half of the state: Alex Dunham and Jordan Deloatch, Raleigh Charter.
“Kessler/Belton posted a decisive first-set victory, 6-1, but fell behind early in the second set, which they lost 3-6,” said assistant coach Rodney Pell, from a hotel in nearby Morrisville where the team stayed Friday night.
“The threat of rain necessitated that the third set begin play at 2-2,” he said.
The Bears dropped the first game to trail 2-3, but then rallied to take four out of five for the win.
“In the semifinals, the Bears faced the number one duo from the West,” Pell said.
Brackin Kirkland and Charles Colhoun, Hendersonville, won the 1A regional tournament in Elkin last weekend. In that final, they beat Bishop McGuinness’ top doubles team of Kevin Weckworth and Joseph Riazzi, who had just beaten Kessler/Belton in the semifinals.
On Friday, Kessler/Belton won the first game, but then fell behind. The pair came back to take a 4-3 lead before Kirkland/Colhoun won the next two games.
The Bears won the next three games and took the first set 7-5.
Kirkland/Colhoun then put together a string of wins, taking the second set 6-2.
“The Bears rallied from an 0-1 deficit in the third set to take a 2-1 lead,” said Pell. The teams stayed on serve for the next few games until the top seeds took a 6-5 lead and threatened to send the Bears home.
“They denied their opponents two match points to win the game and force a tiebreaker,” the coach said.
Kessler/Belton jumped out to an early 3-1 lead, but Hendersonville won four straight to take the lead 3-5. The Bears won four straight themselves to take the tiebreaker 7-5.
The finals will be a rematch with Bishop McGuinness. The Bears held a match point on Bishop last weekend before Weckworth/Riazzi came back to win the second and third sets.
Matt Kessler went into the singles tournament as the second seed from the West against Joseph Bannerman, Pender, the third seed from the East.
Kessler dominated the match, winning 6-0, 6-1 to advance to the semifinals against top-seed Russell Turner, N.C. School of Science and Math, who beat Ben Brewer-Bowman, Hendersonville, in the quarterfinals.
“Turner was undoubtedly the best opponent Matt has encountered this season,” Pell said.
Kessler won the first game of the match, but fell behind early to lose the set 2-6.
“Despite Matt’s determined performance, he was unable to overcome his opponent’s admirable play,” he said.
Turner took the second set 6-1 to advance to the finals against Elkin’s Tyler Macy, who lost in the final last year to Mount Airy’s Nick John in three sets.
The Bears’ top player fell one match short of his goal for a second state championship. Last year, he teamed with Brooks Mayberry to take the 1A doubles title.
Contact Jeff Linville at email@example.com or 719-1920.