RALEIGH — The state’s top tennis team faced a bit of unfamiliar uncertainty entering into Tuesday’s matchup against No. 2 Panther Creek.
Broughton, winner of 11 N.C. High School Athletic Association Class 4A girls’ tennis dual-team titles, had sailed through the season this year as the Caps look to defend the championship crown, but coach Laura Davidson knew the Catamounts would offer a true test.
Broughton (17-0) fought off Panther Creek to win 5-4 and remain undefeated.
“We were expecting one of the top two teams in the state,” Davidson said. “We didn’t know if it was them or us actually. We thought we would win it, but we knew we were going to have to play our very best, and several of the matches went to tiebreakers.”
The Caps had faced and handily beaten five of the state’s top 10 teams this year, but Davidson knew Panther Creek would have the most depth of any team Broughton had previously faced.
“We try to play the strongest teams that we can so we’re ready and we focus a lot on doubles because we know it’s going to come down to doubles,” she said.
That was the case Tuesday as Broughton’s Ann Taylor Hinton and Hunter Cox prevented a Panther Creek sweep in doubles play, topping Aishani Tingare and Loren Kim 8-6 to clinch the Caps victory.
“It definitely shows us what level we are going to have to play at going into the playoffs if we want to be successful and continue some of the success we had last season and try to build on that,” Panther Creek coach Nathaniel Blalock said. “The girls set some very lofty aims at the beginning the season and I think that they are determined to achieve those, and this kind of match better prepares us for that, which is nice.”
Panther Creek (15-1) boasts the state’s defending 4A champion doubles duo in Sammi Smith and Jordan Strickland, who are two of four sophomores among the Catamounts’ top six players. They are joined by freshman Tingare and anchored by senior Megan Smith.
Smith and Strickland dominated Broughton’s Maggie Kane and Olivia King at No. 1 doubles, 8-0. Panther Creek’s Megan Smith and Orla Labiche topped Adrienne Overcash and Kara Summerford, 8-2.
Both King and Overcash made critical comebacks during singles play to give Broughton a 4-2 lead heading into doubles.
“I saw incredible fight from our girls,” Davidson said. “Five of the six courts we lost the first set, so we knew we had to go down to tiebreakers to win and we had a couple of our seniors Olivia King and Adrienne Overcash just really stepped up at three and four. ... We had Maggie Kane as the leader at one, but when they lost those first sets, they just dig deep and dug in and won their tiebreakers to get those matches and that was huge for us.”
No. 3 King topped Strickland 4-6, 6-4, 10-6. No. 4 Overcash defeated Labiche 3-6, 6-4, 10-6.
Kane defeated Smith 6-1, 6-4 in No. 1 singles and Broughton’s No. 5 Hinton topped Tingare 4-6, 6-4, 10-8.
“She really calmed herself down and battled through that match,” Davidson said of the freshman’s come-from-behind win.
Panther Creek’s Sammi Smith topped Summerford 6-0, 6-4, and No. 6 Kim defeated Cox 6-3, 7-6 (7-2) in singles.
The pressure of a tight match was something neither team had faced this season.
“If we want back-to-back championships – and that’s what our goal is – we know that Panther Creek is going to be out there and they’re going to be tough for us to get through because unfortunately in the playoffs we’re in the same bracket,” Davidson said.
The matchup could likely be a preview of a regional tournament meeting as the teams head into individual conference tournaments.
Blalock said despite the loss, he was very happy with the Catamounts’ performance.
“I know it’s not going to go down as a win in the books necessarily, but every match was close and you turn a few points and a few balls the other direction and the match score is completely different,” Blalock said. “We feel very good about the outcome today. Obviously, we wish it had gone in our favor, but for what it was it was very good.”