Gryphons remain in playoffs chase

By Justin Hite

Sports Writer

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The entire Rocky Mount High boys’ tennis team gathered on the fence to watch as No. 6 singles’ player Duncan Carmichael battled for a two-set victory that tied Thursday’s match.

They watched again – seated in a row on a nearby sidewalk – as Carmichael teamed with Cole Winnett and held off a late charge in No. 3 doubles. When the pair pulled out another narrow victory, the entire team erupted in a cheer.

If the Gryphons’ season is to continue beyond next week and into the NCHSAA dual team playoffs, Rocky Mount will have to keep winning close matches, like its 5-4 victory Thursday against Wilson Fike.

“We’re starting to get it now,” No. 1 singles player Kevin Ramirez said. “We see that be being more consistent, we can win more games.”

Rocky Mount (4-3, 4-3 Big East), which won’t play a nonconference match all regular season because of weather, will have to win out and still have a little help in order to claim the Big East Conference’s No. 2 spot in the playoffs.

The Gryphons will face Southern Nash, Wilson Hunt and Northern Nash next week on three consecutive days. Only the match against Southern Nash will be played at home.

“We’re trying our best right now,” Ramirez said. “We’re just trying to win as many matches as we can and move forward.”

Knowing the match would be a battle even against undermanned Wilson Fike (9-3, 5-3), which played without a key player for the second straight day, Nethercutt tried to ease his team’s worries.

At one point during the singles’ matches, he pulled Carmichael aside, reminding him to play for the next shot, not always the winning shot and allow his opponent to make a mistakes.

Carmichael seemed to understand, and Ramirez and his partner J.T. Smith did the same during a long rally at No. 1 doubles.

At times this season, Rocky Mount had been able to win tight matches, showing growth in the long process that a match can become.

“Some days, we’ve come through. Some days, we haven’t,” Nethercutt said. “(Thursday), at the end we did. ... It’s not something we’ve figured out, but we’ll keep plugging away.”

The Gryphons, who Nethercutt said are 13-13 in individual matches decided by two points or fewer, lost their previous matches against Wilson Hunt and Southern Nash but know they have a chance. After all, Wilson Fike knocked off conference-favorite Southern Nash earlier this year.

“They’re starting to understand the importance of just getting that one ball back,” Nethercutt said.

Justin Hite can be reached at 407-9951 or jhite@rmtelegram.com