It's the same old story in SCISA Class AAA state boys tennis. Two-time defending state champion Porter-Gaud and perennial powerhouse Hilton Head Prep are heavy favorites to square off in Friday's state championship match.
But first, the preliminaries must be played out on Monday and Wednesday.
Coach Jonathan Barth's young and talented Porter-Gaud team (9-1) will open the playoffs Monday afternoon at its home courts on Albemarle Road against Columbia's Cardinal Newman (5-6), the fourth seed in the lower bracket. Upper bracket top seed Hilton Head Prep (9-2) plays host to Ben Lippen in the first round.
A win on Monday would send lower bracket top seed Porter-Gaud into Wednesday's semifinals at home against the winner of a match pitting second seed Hammond School against No. 3 Hilton Head Christian.
Region III rivals Porter-Gaud and Hilton Head Prep have squared off in five of the last six state finals, including 2013. The Cyclones have won 14 of the last 19 state titles.
To show how close these two programs are, Porter-Gaud and Prep split a pair of 6-3 results during the regular season.
This is Barth's first venture into the playoffs as the Cyclones' head coach after moving up to take over the top job when longtime coach Tom Higgins retired in 2013.
"Hilton Head Prep and the others have strong teams, but we have another strong team. We can do it," is the way Porter-Gaud No. 1 Seth Pinosky sees the playoffs. "I'm excited about the playoffs . . . it's my last year."
This is Pinosky's sixth time in the state playoffs. The 2013 All-Lowcountry player has played on three state championship teams.
In the Class A-AA playoffs that also start Monday, upper bracket top seed Palmetto Christian (4-5) will play a 3:30 p.m. match at Family Circle Tennis Center against fourth seed St. Andrew's of Savannah. Former All-Lowcountry star Austin Heinz has returned to Palmetto Christian this spring after spending last season at Nick Bollettieri's Academy in Florida.
Reach James Beck at email@example.com. See his columns on pro tennis at ubitennis.com/english.