05/29/05 — GC tennis

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GC tennis

By Gabe Whisnant
Published in Sports on May 29, 2005 2:08 AM

BURLINGTON -- Unlike last year's state-title tilt, the rematch between Class 2-A men's tennis powers Greene Central and Charlotte Catholic held little drama Saturday.

Catholic dominated nearly every match and successfully defended its N.C. High School Athletic Association championship by an 8-1 count on the Burlington Tennis Center courts. A year ago, the Cougars pulled out a one-point win in the final doubles match.

The Rams, denied again in their fourth straight championship appearance, just couldn't match the Cougars ground stroke for ground stroke. Catholic (20-0) capitalized on every key point and wrapped up the program's fourth state title in seven tries since 1991.

"I'm just real pleased with the overall effort of my team," said Greene Central coach Brad Sauls. "I think they really wanted it badly ... knowing that we could have played better here or there.

"Catholic was just too good today, unfortunately. I thought we played pretty well, especially in a couple of spots. But, they are just a little better than we are at every position."

A pair of first-year starters, Travis Moore and Bryan Pollock, rebounded from tough singles losses and played near flawless at No. 3 doubles. The duo trailed early, but began hitting consistently and serving well en route to an 8-3 win against the Cougars' Daniel Tobben-Robert Hazen.

Tobben-Hazen qualified for last weekend's individual championships and finished among the final eight.Moore-Pollock concluded the year a perfect 12-0.

"They played really relaxed tennis," said a grinning Sauls. "I watched them hit winners, get first serves in ... am really proud of them. They played well in singles, but were a little overmatched once again."

Sauls admitted Catholic executed better on key points throughout singles play.

"In a couple of matches, we were 3-2 and 5-4 ... at this level you have to win those games to win these matches," he said. "They handled that situation a little bit better."

Moore earned a break-point chance down 3-4 in the opening set against Tobben. A freshman, Tobben forced the game's second deuce point and followed up with back-to-back winners. He eventually prevailed 6-4, 6-1 and handed Moore his first singles loss in 20 tries.

"Unfortunately, he wasn't able to win that point," said Sauls. "That was good experience for him and I think he did an outstanding job."

Rams senior Brent Darden and Catholic senior Kevin Beard played two magnificent sets.

Darden trailed 5-3 in the first, but pulled within 5-4 with two great points. He hit a backspin volley that bounced just inside Beard's court, and then bounced back onto Darden's side. The unlucky point bothered Beard, who mishit a short volley wide to end the game.

Beard answered by taking the next game and set 6-4. He fell behind twice in the second set at 2-1 and 4-3 before pulling out a 6-4 decision. It was Darden's first singles defeat in 21 matches this season.

"I thought Brent played really well today," said Sauls. "He really took it to Beard and made him win the match. Brent put the pressure on him, I thought, by going to the net a lot. He returned serve really well today.

"I feel like if he could have won his serve a little more often, and usually he holds it pretty easily, but give credit to Kevin because he was returning serve real well."

Catholic dominated play in the remaining singles matches.

Paul Bartholomy, a sophomore, stopped senior Lin Hall 6-1, 6-1 at No. 2. Third-seeded Brandon Lamoureaux, also a sophomore, ousted senior Chris Hardy 6-2, 6-2. Fifth-seeded David Trautmann posted a shutout, while sixth-seeded Michael Huber dropped just two games against Pollock.

"We fought really hard, but against a team like Catholic, that really wasn't good enough," said Sauls. "They have very few weaknesses and we just weren't able to take advantage of those weaknesses. They were too good at exploiting ours.

"It was just too tough."

The Rams finished 21-1.

It was the final match for seniors Darden, Hall and Hardy. The trio have participated on four championship runner-up teams which have amassed a record of 93-5. Four defeats have occurred in the state finals, while the other setback was against 3-A Southern Nash during the 2003 regular season.

Darden finished with 96 career singles wins and a program-best 110 in doubles. Hall broke the school's all-time career singles win mark (104) Thursday against North Lenoir, and leaves with 81 doubles wins.

Hardy fashioned a 96-12 worksheet in singles and a 68-7 record in doubles.

"No doubt, they've been the core of our program the last four years," Sauls said. "For them to play on a team that's traveled to the state finals four straight years, it just shows how good these kids are. And how tough they are mentally, but this isn't easy week in and out.

"They're going to be greatly missed and irreplaceable."

Catholic denied Greene Central's bid not only to win its first-ever state title, but to also end the current domination by western teams. Since the NCHSAA split the 1-A/2-A classification after 1997, only one eastern team -- Western Alamance -- has claimed a state title. The

Warriors won three straight from 1998-2000 before Shelby began a three-year run starting in 2001.

"I've said every year that we've got good-old, home-grown tennis players that are self taught," Sauls said. "They just don't have the same type of experience that their players do. I think that is a little bit of a disadvantage to us.

"Maybe one day we'll be able to overcome that."