GARNER – Garner’s tennis team needed two doubles triumphs to sweep the season series from West Johnston last week.
The No. 1 duo of Evan Hall and Ethan Mitchell and the No. 3 team of Joseph Graham and John Dunston won their respective matches to help the Trojans slip past the Wildcats 5-4 in a Greater Neuse River 4A Conference match on April 9 at Garner High School.
Hall-Mitchell won 8-1 over Marcus Juarez-Robert Manion and Graham-Dunston defeated Darren Shelp-Adam Atik 8-4 to seal the victory for Garner.
“I knew it would be a tight match,” said Garner coach Joe Walls, whose squad improved to 7-2 in the GNRC and 8-7 overall. “The four seniors who play in those doubles matches knew what was on the line and what they had to do. Fortunately for us, it worked out.”
As with the first match – which was won 6-3 by Garner – there were several tiebreakers.
West Johnston (6-4 in GNRC and overall) won at No. 4 (Aaron Turner defeated Collin Simpson 6-7 (4-6), 6-4, 11-9, and at No. 5 (Shelp defeated Graham 6-3, 1-6, 20-18). Garner took the No. 6 singles match when Dunston stopped Seth Thomas 5-7, 6-1, 10-7.
“These matches could have gone either way,” West Johnston coach Will Herring said. “The kids at No. 5 both have similar styles – it’s like playing a mirror. They both have speed and will stand back at the baseline and rally, so I expected a long match there.”
What Herring didn’t expect was Dunston – who has only lost once in the conference – to defeat Thomas.
“Usually I pencil in a win at No. 6,” Herring said. “But John just outplayed Seth in the tiebreaker.”
Walls said of Dunston, “He is real consistent and technical with his shots. That consistency comes when he is not too fancy.”
Singles ended with each squad winning three matches. Garner senior captain Hall defeated Juarez 7-5, 6-2, while No. 2 Mitchell defeated Manion 6-3, 6-2.
West Johnston’s other singles win came at No. 3, where Jacob Motley defeated Joe Stewart 6-1, 6-4.
Hall has played nine of 15 matches at No. 1 singles and is 7-1 in the league and 7-2 overall. He replaced normal No. 1 Dominic Chavez, who is out for the season with a knee injury. Walls was forced to revamp his lineup further when No. 3 Ryan Mahjoob played No. 1 while Hall recovered from a concussion and illness.
“Injuries are a part of the game,” Walls said. “You can live a life of what-ifs, or you can go forward and adjust with people moving up.”
West Johnston took a 4-3 lead when Garner’s No. 2 doubles team, Motley and Turner, won by default over Stewart and Simpson due to illness. But Herring knew what was on the horizon.
“Their first doubles team just simply outmatched us,” he said. “They played a very good match. And I think their third doubles team is just more comfortable together than mine. My guys are good players who are still getting used to each other.”
With the win, Garner remained in second place in the conference behind undefeated Clayton, which has knocked off the Trojans both times. Garner expects to battle East Wake (third in the league) in the season finale at East Wake, which will likely determine second place in the GNRC.
Walls credited Herring and his squad.
“Will does such a great job preparing his kids,” the Garner coach noted. “He has good kids who are focused and come ready to play. I knew they wanted to come in here and get a win, and we had to play well in order to beat them.
“Our third doubles team is hard to beat when they play clean and consistent. All four seniors played good, clean doubles and that’s why were able to be successful.”