03/22/05 — Gators take tennis win at Rosewood

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Gators take tennis win at Rosewood

By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on March 22, 2005 2:12 PM

As daylight slowly turned into dusk on the Rosewood High tennis courts Monday afternoon, Spring Creek sophomore Justin Smith ripped a forehand return to J.P. Cummins.

Cummins' return landed in the net and the ball rolled back toward him as the two met near center court to shake hands. The unforced error gave Smith a straight-set victory and helped the Gator men claim a 5-2 decision against their Class 1-A Carolina Conference archrival.

Rosewood (4-2, 3-2 CC) endured its second consecutive loss.

"It was a competitive match," Eagles coach Bert Perkins said. "We've just got to get better and if we get better, we can make it a more-competitive match the next time (we meet). I'm disappointed with losing, but I thought we played well."

Although five of the six matches concluded in straight sets, Rosewood didn't give Spring Creek much breathing room. The Eagles either trailed or owned a one-game lead on just about every court change in nearly every singles match. They consistently kept the ball in play and coerced the Gators into unforced errors, which lengthened the points.

After four singles matches had ended, the teams were deadlocked in a 2-2 tie.

Spring Creek junior Cliff Wilson dealt Wesley Lovelady a 6-0, 6-3 defeat at the No. 1 slots. Doubles mate Ricky Galloway prevailed 6-3, 6-3 against Joey Churchwell at No. 2. Meanwhile, the Eagles' Brandon Hietpas and fourth-seeded Ty Johnson each picked up a win.

Wilson (5-0) dominated Lovelady, the reigning Carolina singles champion, 6-0 in the opening set. Lovelady changed tactics, disrupted Wilson's rhythm and held leads of 2-1 and 3-2 in the second set.

"Cliff came out and got in a groove. He was like a bulldozer ... just rolling," Perkins said. "At the end of that (first) set, we talked about changing the pace to get him out of the groove. Wes did that and won a couple of games quick. But Cliff is an excellent player ... tough.

"You've got to have your best when you play him."

Wilson seized the final four games and handed Lovelady his second loss of the season.

"Cliff played a great match," Gators coach Robert Jones said. "Lovelady did good to adjust and take the air out of the ball a little bit in that second set."

Galloway trailed 3-2 in the second set against Churchwell. The senior struggled with his first serve throughout the match, but compensated with a smart game plan midway through the second set. Galloway moved the ball well to each corner, broke Churchwell's serve twice and took the final four games.

Hietpas rallied from a 5-4 deficit to outlast Daniel Watson 7-5 in their opening set at No. 3 singles. Hietpas, one of three seniors in Rosewood's lineup, kept the momentum in the second set. Hietpas triumphed in nine of the final 10 games and took the set 6-1.

"I thought we might be able to get out 5-1 in singles," Jones said.

But Johnson had other thoughts.

The junior bothered the Gators' Phat Tran with a "pushing" style of play and eventually won 6-7 (6), 6-3, 6-0.

"Ty came back strong and that's a positive," Perkins said. "Daniel (Ellis) at number six was overmatched, but he fought hard."

Ellis lost 6-2, 6-3 to Brandon Strickland which gave the Gators a 3-2 advantage overall.

Wilson-Galloway dropped the opening game against Lovelady-Hietpas at No. 1 doubles. The Spring Creek duo, playing just their second match together, reeled off eight straight games for an 8-1 decision. A couple of minutes later, Smith induced the match-clinching unforced error to give Spring Creek the upper hand in the race for the Carolina Conference championship.

"I was pleased with our consistency at numbers five and six," Jones said. "Justin and Brandon had to keep the ball in play to win there. In number one doubles, Cliff brought his 'A' game and Ricky rose to the occasion.

"I was very pleased overall with the whole team's performance."

Each team continues play this afternoon. Rosewood is the guest of Farmville Central, while Spring Creek (4-1, 4-1) visits SouthWest Edgecombe. The two schools conclude their pre-Easter schedule Wednesday. The Eagles face North Lenoir, while the Gators entertain defending Eastern Plains 2-A champion Greene Central.