Chapel Hill coach Steve Simmons figured his team needed to split the singles matches against Fayetteville Terry Sanford on Wednesday in the 3A East Region championship match of the N.C. High School Athletic Association boys' dual-team tennis tournament if the Tigers were going to have a chance to win.
The Tigers (15-2), who lost only their second dual match, were close to that goal but did not achieve it before falling 6-3 to the unbeaten Bulldogs (13-0).
"Terry Sanford played some great tennis against us," Simmons said. "My guys came out and started off fast and led at 4, 5 and 6 early. But their players dug in and got the win at 6. We got two points out of singles but we would have liked three going into doubles."
Chapel Hill got out of the singles matches down 4-2, forcing the match to be settled in doubles. That was an achievement in itself as Terry Sanford had not lost twice in singles in a match all season, according to Bulldogs' coach Gene Autry.
The Tigers got victories from their No. 4 and No. 5 players. Paul Tsui and Zack Bolzan gave Chapel Hill a chance. Tsui split sets with Andrew Zahran 5-7, 6-2 and then took the tie-breaker 10-5. Bolzan took down Dev Sashidhar 6-4, 6-4.
But the rest of Terry Sanford's lineup was too much for the Tigers to handle, including recently crowned state 3-A singles champion Henry Lieberman at No. 1.
Lieberman continued his championship form by defeating Chapel Hill No. 1 David Mirzoyan 6-0, 6-1.
"David played hard all season and he had a tough match today against the state champion," Simmons said.
At No. 2, Nathan Lieberman beat Patrick Dayton 6-4, 7-5, while Chapel Hill's No. 3 Jerry Cai fell to Alex Kasari 6-1, 6-3. At No. 6, Ethan Botts lost to Richie King 6-4, 6-2.
That left Chapel Hill no margin in doubles, requiring the Tigers to sweep all three remaining matches against the team that made it to the state finals last season, too.
Dayton and Botts teamed up and kept the Tigers alive by beating Kasari and Zahran 10-6.
But the overall match ended moments later as the Lieberman brothers secured a 10-5 win over Mirzoyan and Tsui and clinch the regional championship.
"We knew our doubles match was the important one if we were going to come back and win," Tsui said. "It was very challenging. We did well but there was room for improvement."
The remaining doubles match also went to Terry Sanford as Sashidhar and King defeated Bolzan and Cai 10-8.
It is the second year in a row Terry Sanford knocked Chapel Hill out of the playoffs. In the 2016 dual-team tournament, Terry Sanford prevailed 5-4 in the second round. This time it was for a berth in the state finals on Saturday. Terry Sanford's win send them up against Matthews Weddington, which knocked off defending champion Marvin Ridge for the West Region title.
"I am happy for my guys but we all know how much more it is going to take," Simmons said. "Our goal was to get to and win the state championship. They're a special group of guys and I hope that losing this tough match in the Final Four will spur them to come back stronger next year."