The last thing Hilton Head Prep tennis coach Royce Silvan wanted was for his team's SCISAA Class 3-A semifinal against Pinewood Prep to come down to the doubles matches. The Panthers, Silvan felt, were at their best playing doubles.
But the Dolphins were a little bit better Wednesday.
After taking four of six singles matches, Hilton Head Prep's top two doubles teams also won, clinching a 6-3 victory at Windmill Harbour and sending the Dolphins back to the state title match for the fourth consecutive year. They will face defending champion Porter-Gaud for the title Friday. The time and site have not yet been determined.
"I'm very confident in my top two doubles teams, yet Pinewood is the type of team that has the ability to fight a great fight," Silvan said. "They're notorious for making great comebacks, and you've got to respect them a lot. They're probably better doubles players than singles, and when they put it together, they're a very dangerous team."
The Dolphins almost had things locked up without playing doubles. Their top four players all won in straight sets, and they needed only one more win to clinch the victory. But Davis Craig finished off Jarrett Nixon in straight sets at No. 5, and William Wert rallied after losing the first set to take down Franklyn Bakala at No. 6, giving the Panthers a chance, albeit a slim one.
Hilton Head Prep (13-2) needed just one win in three doubles matches to finish off the match, but even that looked a bit shaky when the Panthers got off to great starts on the Nos. 1 and 3 courts. When Dolphins junior Nicky Kunz glanced over and saw the No. 1 team of Jared Woodson and Mo Hookaylo trailing 3-0 in the first set, he knew he and Aaron Cotton needed to win at No. 2.
"We knew we had to win our doubles match, because Mo and Jared were down in the beginning," Kunz said, "so we really concentrated on our match."
Kunz and Cotton cruised to a 6-1, 6-4 victory, clinching the Dolphins' fourth consecutive trip to the finals. As soon as that match ended, the Panthers' No. 1 team of J.T. Elliget and Adam Elliget retired from their match, which they trailed 6-3, 5-0. Woodson and Hookaylo won 11 consecutive games before the Elliget brothers retired.
"Mo and Jared got off to a little bit of a lazy start," Silvan said. "The intensity just was not there, and we had a chat about their intensity and not to think that the guys next door were going to get the job done for them. You've got to be accountable for your own court."
The two teams split during the regular season, though the losing team wasn't at full strength either time. The Dolphins were without Cotton, their No. 3 player, when they lost at Pinewood Prep, and the Panthers were without both Elliget brothers when Prep beat them 7-2 at home.
Having Cotton back in the lineup proved quite a boon for the Dolphins on Wednesday, as he easily won his singles match and teamed with Kunz for the clinching victory.
"I just wanted to come in, play well and play hard," Cotton said. "I knew these guys were pretty good, and I just wanted to help out the team and get the job done."
Now the Dolphins face an even tougher task, taking on Porter-Gaud for the third time this season. Each team won one of the previous meetings, both by 5-4 scores.
The key for Prep on Friday, Silvan said, will be winning the top four singles matches, as Porter-Gaud is exceptionally strong at the bottom of the lineup.
"They're going to be great matches; we had a couple of close ones last time," Silvan said. "We've got to win 1 through 4. Going into doubles at 4-2, I feel very confident. Going into doubles at 3-all, that puts a lot of pressure on teams 1 and 2, and last time they were both tiebreaks.
"It's going to be that tight."
Hilton Head Prep 6, Pinewood Prep
Singles: No. 1 -- Jared Woodson (HHP) def. J.T. Elliget 6-2, 6-0; No. 2 -- Mo Hookaylo (HHP) def. Jacob Cumbie 7-5, 6-3; No. 3 -- Aaron Cotton (HHP) def. Joel Roberts 6-1, 6-2; No. 4 -- Nicky Kunz (HHP) def. Adam Elliget 6-4, 6-3; No. 5 -- Davis Craig (PP) def. Jarrett Nixon 6-4, 6-1; No. 6 -- William Wert (PP) def. Franklyn Bakala 4-6, 6-2, 10-4.
Doubles: No. 1 -- Woodson/Hookaylo def. Elliget/Elliget 6-3, 5-0 (retired); No. 2 -- Cotton/Kunz def. Cumbie/Roberts 6-1, 6-4; No. 3 -- Craig/Wert def. Nixon/Bakala 6-4, 6-1.