High School Sports

Dolphins return with another state tennis championship

Aaron Cotton was sitting on the bench alongside doubles partner Andrew Schafer when it happened.

On the next court over, teammates Jared Woodson and J.D. O'Brien put the finishing touches on a 6-4, 6-3 victory at No. 2 doubles, giving Hilton Head Prep's tennis team its fifth win of the day against Porter-Gaud on Monday at Hammond School.

The rest is kind of a blur.

"We jumped up and rushed over and started jumping around and screaming, and the whole nine yards of when you win state," Cotton said.

That's a feeling the Dolphins have gotten used to -- they now have won three SCISAA Class 3-A state championships in four years, the last two at Porter-Gaud's expense.

Whether this one would happen seemed uncertain at the start of the season. No. 2 player Mo Hookaylo graduated, and No. 4 Nicky Kunz elected to stick to playing tournaments this year.

But the Dolphins added Andrew Schafer, a transfer from Maryland who ascended to the No. 1 spot, and O'Brien, a transfer from Cleveland who slipped into the No. 4 spot, and suddenly, Prep coach Danny Nash knew he had a contender.

"I thought we were going to be virtually unbeatable at 1, 2 and 3," Nash said. "The first day I saw J.D. hit, I knew we were going to be pretty darn tough at 4, too."

That strength at the top of the lineup proved to be the difference Monday.

Schafer, Woodson and O'Brien breezed through their matches in straight sets, but the Dolphins (8-2) felt they needed four wins in singles to feel confident about securing the title, and Cotton lost the second set to Hunter Mitchell, setting up a 10-point tiebreaker that would go a long way toward determining a state champion.

"It was pretty tough to lose that second set and get in the right frame of mind to pick yourself up and restart," Cotton said.

But that's exactly what he did. After a slow start to the tiebreaker, Cotton rallied to win 10-8, giving the Dolphins a 4-2 lead heading to doubles.

"I just really dug down deep and got it back up and started playing my game," Cotton said. "It was very nerve-wracking, but I put the team on my back, essentially, and pulled us through."

Singles:

No. 1 Andrew Schafer (HHP) def. Thomas Spratt, 6-3, 6-2; No. 2 Jared Woodson (HHP) def. Matt Polletti, 6-4, 6-1; No. 3 Aaron Cotton (HHP) def. Hunter Mitchell, 6-1, 3-6, 10-8; No. 4 J.D. O'Brien (HHP) def. John Steichen, 6-4, 7-5; No. 5 Charlie Baker (PG) def. Franklyn Bakala, 6-0, 6-1; No. 6 Seth Pinosky (PG) def. Amit Kohli, 6-0, 6-0

Doubles: No. 2 Woodson/O'Brien (HHP) def. Baker/Wilson Daniel, 6-4, 6-3; No. 3 Payne Hoy/Polletti (PG) def. Bakala/Kohli 6-2, 6-1.

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