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In the words of coach Lee Matthews: “The tiebreakers even out, I guess.”
Tiebreakers decided three singles and a doubles outcome in Thursday afternoon’s showdown in the bright sunshine among the 3-A Big East Conference’s top two boys tennis teams.
Front-running Rocky Mount prevailed in all four match-ending tiebreakers in claiming a 9-0 conquest of Matthews’ Golden Demons that clinched the league’s top berth in the North Carolina High School Athletic Association 3-A playoffs and no worse than a share of the Big East championship, rising to 8-0 in the conference and to 12-1 in all matches.
Second-place Fike dipped to 5-2 in the Big East and to 8-3 overall heading into Tuesday’s conference match at Northern Nash.
The first meeting, a 7-2 Rocky Mount win, produced two tiebreakers — both claimed by Fike. However, the Gryphons pulling out three tiebreaker wins in singles deemed doubles inconsequential.
“I was really pleased with our effort,” Matthews expressed. “We came out ready to play. We got what we wanted — we won the first set at Nos. 2, 4 and 5. Oddly enough, we can’t win a tiebreaker.”
Senior John Gliarmis impressed his coach by pounding out a 7-6 win in the opening set at No. 2. At No. 4, senior A.J. Gunter prevailed 6-3 in the first set against Gryphons junior Landon Norwood, who won 6-0, 6-1 in the first meeting. At No. 5, Fike freshman Cole Peterson headed into the second set with a 6-2 cushion.
However, senior George Shannon rallied to a 6-7, 6-0, 10-4 triumph at No. 2; Gunter lost 3-6, 6-0, 10-7 to Norwood; and Peterson fell 2-6, 6-2, 11-9 to Rocky Mount senior Spencer Harris. Gunter, constantly on the move, and Norwood were deadlocked 5-5 before Norwood took command. Peterson and Harris battled point-for-point throughout their tiebreaker.
“Rocky Mount always becomes conservative when it gets down,” Gunter explained, “and that got into my head. I double-faulted a lot. (Norwood) came to the net more than me, and I give him credit for that. That was great playing.”
Gunter struggled mightily with his serve.
“I hadn’t had any trouble with my serve lately until the second set,” Gunter noted. “ Once it got into my head ... Then, in the third set, I was not going to be too aggressive with my serve.”
But of going from winning just one game to having a legitimate shot at victory in the rematch, Gunter reasoned: “The home-court advantage always helps. This was our third match of the week and that’s cause for pros and cons. We were all pretty worn out, but it was great preparation for today. But Rocky Mount is always great competition.”
The Gryphons clinched with senior Tyler Brice prevailing 7-5, 6-3 at No. 1; senior Ben Osterhout winning 6-4, 6-0 at No. 3; and junior Sam Phillips claiming a 6-4, 6-3 outcome at No. 6.
Rocky Mount came away unblemished when, at No. 2 doubles, Osterhout-Norwood pulled out a 7-2 tiebreaker against Walker Gliarmis-Gunter.
“We won at Nos. 5 and 6 last time and were thinking we could win a couple of singles matches today,” Gunter said. “We didn’t win a singles match, but it was a lot closer in the top four. This was a lot closer game.”
First-year boys coach Wayne Holloman praised his Gryphons, especially their ability to recover from a shaky start.
“Today, to be honest, was a product of the conference being kind of weak,” Holloman declared. “During a string of the last two weeks, we didn’t play much competition. Absolutely, we came out and started slow.
“To run into a team like Fike, that’s to be expected. Fike jumped on us. I made some individual adjustments that, hopefully, pulled them through. It was a matter of them knowing what they can do and what the Fike players were unable to do. They all made adjustments. I couldn’t be more proud than to see us win all six singles.”
ROCKY MOUNT 9, FIKE 0
Tyler Brice (RM) def. Thomas Hodges 7-5, 6-3; George Shannon (RM) def. John Gliarmis 6-7, 6-0, 10-4; Ben Osterhout (RM) def. Walker Gliarmis 6-4, 6-0; Landon Norwood (RM) def. A.J. Gunter 3-6, 6-0, 10-7; Spencer Harris (RM) def. Cole Peterson 2-6, 6-2, 11-9; Sam Phillips (RM) def. Justin Bass 6-4, 6-3.
Brice-Shannon (RM) def. Hodges-J. Gliarmis 8-4; Osterhout-Norwood (RM) def. W. Gliarmis-Gunter 9-8 (7-2); Harris-Phillips (RM) def. Jack Boyette-Max Fogleman 8-1.