Porter-Gaud's boys have gone from being a clear-cut favorite to repeat as SCISA Class AAA state champion to a virtual toss-up position. And it's all because of Cotton -- Hilton Head Prep junior Aaron Cotton, that is.

Cotton didn't travel with Hilton Head Prep to either Porter-Gaud or Pinewood Prep in the regular season, and his team lost both matches. But the New Orleans product helped Hilton Head Prep score victories over both local teams when they traveled to Hilton Head Island.

As a result of those four results -- all 5-4 decisions except Pinewood's 7-2 loss at Hilton Head -- along with the fact Porter-Gaud defeated Pinewood Prep twice, once-beaten Porter-Gaud is the top seed in this week's state playoffs. Two-time loser Hilton Head Prep is the second seed, followed by Pinewood Prep with three losses.

That means Porter-Gaud and Hilton Head Prep are favored to meet Friday afternoon at a non-clay site to be determined for the state title in a repeat of last year's final. Cotton was one of the key figures a year ago when he lost to the Cyclones' cramping J.B. Robards in a third-set match tiebreaker that allowed Porter-Gaud to take a 4-2 lead in singles en route to a 5-2 state championship victory.

With Nicky Kunz rejoining Hilton Head Prep for his senior year and talented eighth-grader Jared Woodson moving up to the No. 1 position, the Dolphins have an edge in the first four singles positions. Woodson, senior Mo Hookaylo, Cotton and Kunz swept Porter-Gaud's top four of Elliott Sperr, Robards, Thomas Spratt and Johnny Steichen last Monday on clay at Hilton Head Island.

Hookaylo has been the mainstay of Hilton Head Prep's three straight trips to the state finals, winning in 2008 over Pinewood Prep. But 2009 Lowcountry player of the year Robards defeated Hookaylo twice in last year's regular season at No. 1, only to fall to the Hilton Head Prep player, 7-5, 6-3, last week at No. 2.

"I think J.B. can do it against Mo. He beat Mo pretty good twice last year," Porter-Gaud coach Tom Higgins said.

The Cyclones came close to avoiding a 5-4 loss last week at two different positions. Spratt, a tall freshman, suffered a 6-4, 2-6, 10-5 loss to Kunz, and then Kunz and Cotton turned back the Spratt/Sperr team, 7-6, 7-6, at No. 2 doubles.

"That might have been a good one to lose," Higgins said about his team's only loss in two seasons. "It let everyone know to keep their feet on the ground.

"But I think we'll be better on a hard surface. It would be an advantage if we could play at home."

First, however, Porter-Gaud will be a heavy favorite to take care of the winner of Monday's Hammond School/Wilson Hall matchup on Wednesday at the Porter-Gaud courts in the state semifinals. The Cyclones have a first-round bye on Monday.

Pinewood Prep has a first-round engagement in Summerville on Monday against No. 6 seed Heathwood Hall, while Hilton Head Prep will open the playoffs at home on Monday against No. 7 seed St. Joseph's Catholic. Both Pinewood Prep and Hilton Head Prep should win their opening matches easily to qualify for a Wednesday showdown in the state semifinals at the site of the higher seed.

Despite the loss at Hilton Head Prep, Porter-Gaud has had another standout season, defeating perennial High School League Class AA power Waccamaw twice. The latest win came last Tuesday by a 5-4 score at the P-G courts.

Satellite tennis coming

Satellite pro tennis is returning to the area for the first time in a decade. The Players Racquet and Tennis Club has announced it will hold a $10,000 USTA women's satellite event from June 13-20. The Mount Pleasant Women's Pro Classic will showcase upcoming players such as Daniel Island's own Shelby Rogers, currently ranked No. 756 in the world.

Rogers, of course, showed off her talents during the recent Family Circle Cup. She trains out of the Players Racquet and Tennis Club under pro Bryan Minton.

Host pro Chuck Lee expects players ranked between 300 and 700 in the world to participate in the clay-court tournament, which is looking for additional sponsors as well as host famililies for 20 visiting officials. Contact Kit Menis (901-0059 or kit@kitmenis.com) for sponsorships or Lee (330-1128 or info@mtpwomensproclassic.com) to serve as a host family.

Reel sticks on display

Skip Scarpa's Reel Sticks invention will be used for the U.S. Open Series kickoff event, the televised July 19-25 Atlanta Tennis Championships at the Atlanta Athletic Club. Reel Sticks will be a sponsor of the ATP Tour event, said Scarpa, a local tennis court builder.

Scarpa plans to install his time-saving singles-stick devices on all of the courts at the tournament site before the event starts.

Local notes

--Team registrations for most mixed doubles levels will end today. A team must have at least three eligible partnerships registered on TennisLink by midnight tonight to compete in the LCTA mixed doubles leagues. However, additional players can be added through the season. Registration for 2.5 mixed doubles teams is open through May 9. For information, contact Dee Mack (hotback4@bellsouth.net) for the adult leagues or Judi Fillinger (jfillin@hotmail.com) for seniors.

--Two Bishop England tennis players have signed college grants-in-aid. Three-time All-Lowcountry boys' standout Randall Heffron has signed with Wofford College, while girls star Shannon McManus has signed a scholarship with Newberry College.

--The Bishop England Fall Invitational will be Sept. 17-19 at Snee Farm Country Club and Mount Pleasant's Whipple Road complex. Schools that have committed: Wando, Ashley Hall, Pelion, Beaufort, Riverside, Aiken, Hilton Head, Academic Magnet, Wacamaw, Dutch Fork and West Florence. BE girls coach Kristin Fleming said they are waiting on four more teams to commit.

--The second annual Superintendent's Cup tournament for Charleston County teachers will be held Saturday at Charleston Tennis Center, Maybank Tennis Center, and the St. Andrew's Playground and Playground complex from 8:30 a.m. to noon. To volunteer or to donate goods or services, contact Meg Farrelly (megphotogirl@aol.com or 860-9898).

Reach James Beck at jamesbecktennis@gmail.com.

James Beck's columns on pro tennis are available at

http://ricerca.quotidianonet.ilsole24ore.com/articoli/ubitennis.shtml?keyword=beck