05/11/05 — S. Nash ousts Warriors

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S. Nash ousts Warriors

By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on May 11, 2005 2:07 PM

BAILEY -- The good ride ended quickly for Eastern Wayne in the N.C. High School Athletic Association Class 2-A men's dual-team tennis playoffs Tuesday afternoon.

Battling nerves and committing uncharacteristic unforced errors proved crucial in a 6-0 loss at Southern Nash. It was the Warriors' first postseason appearance since 1999 when they competed in the Mideastern 4-A Conference.

"They were so nervous, they couldn't listen," said Eastern Wayne coach Nancy Dawson. "I tried to calm them down."

Nothing seemed to work.

Balls dropped into the net on short volleys or sailed long in the breeze on the Firebird courts. Southern Nash (18-1) seized its fourth consecutive opening-round win and travels to West Carteret next Tuesday afternoon.

The Warriors finished 14-4.

"I knew they were going to come ready for us," Firebirds coach Brad Joyner said. "Those first games in every set were highly contested. We started breaking at three and four (singles), and were really out-pacing them in those (matches).

"One and six came along after that much slower."

However, the Nos. 2 and 5 singles matches were the difference. Southern Nash prevailed in a third-set tiebreaker in both en route to just its sixth playoff victory since 1998.

The Firebirds' Chris Murph, one of five seniors in the lineup, dropped the opening set in quick fashion to Alex Bryant. Bryant consistently converted his first serve, charged the net at times and forced Murph to hit numerous errors in a 6-2 win.

During the changeover, Joyner had a short, but meaningful strategy session with Murph.

"You don't see a lot of people coming to the net at number five singles," Joyner said. "Chris was popping it up to him. We decided if he comes to the net, you've got two wide alleys to hit the ball.

"He made enough of an adjustment to actually be in the set. That made it more competitive by forcing him (Bryant) to get out of his game."

Murph utilized the court, and kept his return shots low and deep. The players stayed on serve until Murph gained a break point in a match-tying 6-4 win.

Murph, who is 17-2 in dual-match play, seized the first four points of the third-set tiebreaker. Bryant obliged his opponent with three unforced errors, while Murph hit one winner -- a backhand lob deep to the left corner.

Bryant climbed within 4-1, but could get no closer. A mishit on a chip volley and a smash at the net gave Murph five match points against Bryant's serve. Murph sealed the comeback win when Bryant's backhand slice landed in the bottom of the net.

"By the time they got into the tiebreaker, I think the mind played a part," Joyner said.

The Warriors' Jared Stone played a solid first set against senior Ben Fite and prevailed 6-4. Fite gained momentum with a second-set win and escaped 9-7 in the tiebreaker.

Southern Nash, which won its third straight Big 8 North championship, captured straight-set victories in four singles matches. Third-seeded Travis Whitley remained unbeaten in 18 dual-match outings, while top-seeded Matthew Gardner improved to 18-1.

Daniel Bryant collected his 16th win at No. 4 singles, while freshman Michael Barnes climbed to 17-2.

Disappointed with the loss, Dawson couldn't have been more pleased with her team's effort. The quality competition aided both teams, which continue play Friday in the NCHSAA eastern individual regionals in Wilson.

"It was a learning experience," Dawson said. "The thing is we get to see them again Friday and we know how they play. All things work out to the good and I'm going to depend on that.

"It's been a good ride and I cannot say anything negative about these boys. They have been a pleasure to coach. Somebody had to (lose) and it just wasn't our day."