So close … Salisbury tennis falls in state title match

Published 11:55 pm Saturday, May 18, 2019

By David Shaw

BURLINGTON — Twenty-six years after winning its last state championship, the Salisbury boys tennis program is still looking for its next.

The Hornets were denied their first title since 1993, Saturday at the Burlington Tennis Center, where once-beaten Clinton earned a 5-4 victory in the 2A championship match.

“We had every opportunity to win, just like they did,” coach Milton Griffith said, moments after Salisbury (22-1) lost at third doubles — the final match in a three-hour test-of-nerves — and suffered its first loss. “We didn’t execute at the end like we should have. But everybody can’t win. It’s rough losing, but in a couple of days they’ll realize how much they did accomplish.”

Salisbury had an extraordinary season, one that ends in disappointment but not despair. It enjoyed a guided tour through the Central Carolina Conference, then swatted aside four opponents without playing a doubles match in the state playoffs. Yesterday, it met its match in the Dark Horses (22-1).

“We had a good run,” senior Ethan McGee said. “We didn’t close it off like we wanted to, but I’m happy we made it here. The whole season came down to the last match.”

Perhaps that’s why senior Jander Rodas fought back tears after teaming with McGee in the all-telling dual at No. 3 doubles.

“We played until the end, fought until the end,” he said. “But we should have won. We played bad. We didn’t get hot until it was almost over.”

Junior Sean Archer — who lost at third singles, then teamed with Leo Schiavinato to win at second doubles — was disconcerted afterward, yet found a reason to celebrate. “This was my last match with these guys, these teammates,” he said. “I’ve known them since before high school. I’ve watched their games develop and evolve. They made me a better player by beating me in practice all the time. It’s amazing to see how far we came together.”

Salisbury split the six singles matches and dropped two of three in doubles play. Senior Roarke Burton prevailed at first singles, topping Clinton’s Lukas Jerez, 6-0, 6-1, in less than an hour. “I knew it was hot,” Burton said. “I knew I’d have to do just enough to win and get ready for doubles. I mean, he was a fighter. I couldn’t just hope to win the point. But I made him run a lot and that made it easier on myself.”

A good start for the Hornets soon turned into a frantic race to catch up. McGee lost — 1-6, 1-6, to junior Alexandre Haran at second singles. Archer was beaten, 2-6, 0-6 by MVP Cooper Brewen. And the previously unbeaten Schiavinato suffered from dizzyness, dehydration and shortness of breath during his extended 6-3, 3-6, (5-10) setback against Camden Thompson.

“In the second set, he broke me,” the Brazilian exchange student said. “And I didn’t have enough energy to break him back. He was very intelligent to keep hitting it to the corners and keeping me running.”

A pall of concern enveloped the Salisbury camp and Griffith. “With Leo hurt, I was worried,” he said. “But we were up in both matches still going on, so I figured we’d get to 3-3.”

Griffith was correct. SHS got things even by winning those two singles matches. Rodas swept past Peter Darden, 6-1, 6-2. at No. 5. And Juan Salazar, the hero of Wednesday’s triumph in the Western Regional championship match, took care of Ty Randleman, 6-3, 6-0 at No. 6.

“I thought I was a far better player,” Salazar said. “At first, he was looking for me to make unforced errors. But then, I realized all he wanted to do was rally back-and-forth with me. I started rushing the net and basically out-rallied him.”

In doubles play, Griffith experimented and went with three combinations he hadn’t penciled in this season. “We knew what was going on and what was at stake,” he said. “We had to set the doubles based on what they had. These pairings gave us the best chance.”

The experiment showed signs of failing when Burton and Salazar were beaten handily, 10-2, at first doubles. However, Schiavinato and Archer prevailed at No. 2, 10-3, squaring the championship match at four apiece. That left McGee and Rodas to deal with Clinton’s Thompson and Darden. The Clinton pair survived, 10-5, setting of a festive, on-court celebration.

When it ended, the subdued Hornets accepted their runner-up ribbons and watched Clinton, winners of 19 consecutive matches, receive the championship plaque. Salisbury completed a joyride that saw them pass every test but one — the final exam.

“As a group, we just united,” Archer said. “We understood that everybody had to do their part. We won as a team and lost as a team — and that’s a life lesson you can hang on to forever.”

NOTES: McGee was awarded his team’s sportsmanship award. … Rodas and Salazar each finished with 20-0 records in singles. Schiavinato (20-1), Archer (20-2), McGee (20-2) and Burton (18-3) also had stellar seasons. … Clinton’s Brewen finished 20-2 playing singles at the first, second, third and fourth spots.