History repeated itself Monday afternoon for Porter-Gaud's boys tennis team. Only this time the site changed from Beaufort to Columbia.
The Cyclones once again dug too big a hole in singles from which to escape, allowing Hilton Head Prep (8-2) to win its second straight SCISA Class AAA state championship and third in four years with a 5-3 victory at the Hammond School courts.
Hilton Head Prep (8-2) blended the talent of newcomers Andrew Schafer and J.D. O'Brien with that of veterans Aaron Cotton and Jared Woodson to sweep the first four singles positions for the second year in a row in the state finals against the Cyclones, then got the doubles win the Dolphins needed from Woodson and O'Brien at No. 2 over Charlie Baker and Wil Daniel, 6-4, 6-3, to clinch the championship. Porter-Gaud was up a set in No. 1 doubles when the Dolphins ended the match.
"Everyone played hard, but they just played the big points better," Porter-Gaud coach Tom Higgins said, sizing up the loss.
"I felt Charlie Baker and Wil Daniel were a lot tougher, but the Woodson kid made some great shots when he needed them."
The keys in singles were at the Nos. 3 and 4 positions where Porter-Gaud junior Hunter Mitchell suffered a second straight three-set loss to Cotton, 6-2, 3-6, 10-8, while O'Brien bounced back from a regular season loss to P-G senior Johnny Steichen to score a 6-4, 7-5 victory when all of the marbles were on the line.
"That was the big upset, Steichen losing to O'Brien. Johnny had beaten him earlier, but Johnny's serve left him at the end and that was the difference," Higgins said.
For Mitchell, it was the second straight 10-8 match tiebreaker loss to Cotton, a senior from New Orleans. "He shanked a backhand off the frame down the line for 9-8," said Mitchell, playing in his fourth straight state final, the first two with Hilton Head Prep. "The last point was a close call that went against me after a long rally."
Sophomore No. 1 Thomas Spratt matched the total number of games of his first two matches against Schafer before falling, 6-3, 6-2, to the SCISA Open singles champion. Woodson, a sophomore who is rated as one of the top prospects in the country, defeated P-G senior Matt Poletti by the same score.
Hilton Head's top four players all train at the Smith-Stearns Tennis Academy. Schafer arrived this school year from Frederick, Md., while O'Brien came from Cleveland. "They've got a feeder system going with Stan Smith's Academy," Higgins said.
Baker and freshman Seth Pinosky got the only singles wins for the Cyclones to finish unbeaten for the season at Nos. 5 and 6.
HILTON HEAD PREP 5,
Singles: Andrew Schafer (HHP) def. Thomas Spratt, 6-3, 6-2; Jared Woodson (HHP) def. Matt Poletti, 6-3, 6-2; Aaron Cotton (HHP) def. Hunter Mitchell, 6-2, 3-6, 10-8; J.D. O'Brien (HHP) def. Johnny Steichen, 6-4, 7-5; Charlie Baker (PG) def. Franklyn Bakala, 6-0, 6-1; Seth Pinosky (PG) def. Ahmed Kohli, 6-0, 6-1.
Doubles: Woodson/O'Brien (HHP) def. Baker/Daniel, 6-4, 6-3; Poletti/Payne Hoy (PG) def. Bakala/Kohli, 6-0, 6-1.
Palmetto Christian seeks 6th in row
Palmetto Christian Academy has turned out some of the area's top boys tennis talent in recent years, including former All-Lowcountry players Don Bruner, John Karle and Addison King as well as Austin Heinz and Nick Butler.
Bruner eventually gave up on high school tennis and Karle became Bishop England's No. 1. As late as last season, the Eagles had King, Heinz and Butler, but Butler is now the No. 1 for Academic Magnet and King is Wando's No. 1. That leaves only Heinz, a talented freshman, in the Eagles' nest as they seek their sixth straight SCISA Class A state title today at 1 p.m. against unbeaten Aiken Prep at Aiken's Houndslake Country Club.
Do the Eagles have the power to win another title? That's the question now since Aiken Prep's 8-1 win over the Eagles earlier this season, although neither team was at full strength that day on clay at Family Circle Tennis Center. Today's match will be played on hard courts, according to Aiken Prep officials.
Palmetto Prep's girls already have won their sixth straight state title, accomplishing the feat in the spring.
--In today's opening round of the High School League's Class AAAA playoffs, Wando is at home to Dutch Fork, Ashley Ridge entertains Aiken, Stratford plays host to Conway and Beaufort is at home to White Knoll, while James Island visits Carolina Forest and Fort Dorchester travels to South Aiken. The 32-team AAAA playoffs will end May 14.