The arrival of Junior Duarte on the Porter-Gaud tennis team has had a larger impact on the Cyclones’ season than you might expect from a 5-3, 125-pound freshman.
But then, Duarte’s doubles partner is sophomore Seth Pinosky, who is about the same size as Duarte.
These two “Mighty Mites” are expected to have a giant presence in today’s 2 p.m. SCISA Class AAA state final at the Hammond School in Columbia that will pit Porter-Gaud (13-2) against Region III rival Hilton Head Christian (8-3).
Duarte and Pinosky turned the tables on Hilton Head Christian’s No. 2 doubles team in the last regular season meeting between the teams, and that helped the Cyclones post a 5-4 victory. Pinosky also won at No. 4 singles in the last meeting as well as earlier in Porter-Gaud’s 5-3 season-opening loss to Hilton Head Christian.
Porter-Gaud coach Tom Higgins is hoping for more of the same today in Columbia, the site of the Cyclones’ 5-1 win over Hammond School in Wednesday’s semifinals. Hilton Head Christian avenged a pair of regular season losses to Hilton Head Prep with a 5-3 win in the other state semifinal.
Duarte got his start in tennis in the City of Charleston’s Courting Kids program, and played tennis for West Ashley High prior to transferring to Porter-Gaud this school year. Duarte was born in the United States, but his father grew up in Mexico.
“Junior’s a real fighter,” Higgins said. “He’s in every point, and you’re going to have to beat him. Even when he loses a match, it’ll last a couple of hours. He gives a consistent performance every match.”
Duarte lost both regular season meetings against Hilton Head Christian standout Hampton Drake at No. 2 singles, but he closed to 6-3, 6-4 in the second match. A few more points in critical situations today, and Duarte might pull another reversal.
“Junior is improving every time he goes out,” Higgins said.
Duarte, who trained initially under Charleston Tennis Center pro Fredrik Andersson, has gained hope in the last few years of one day playing college tennis. He now trains at Family Circle Tennis Center.
“I like it at Porter-Gaud,” Duarte said Wednesday after the Cyclones’ semifinal success. “West Ashley wasn’t as good as this team, and the competition is always good here.
“I would like to play college tennis … tennis is my favorite sport,” said the John’s Island resident, whose younger brother and sister both participate in Courting Kids and attend the St. Andrew’s School of Math and Science.