BAILEY – Before Tuesday’s match even started, Southern Nash had an obvious advantage.
While the Firebirds were without their No. 6 player, their second-round opponent, Wendell Corinth-Holders, was without its No. 1 singles player, a three-time conference player of the year.
Longtime coach Brad Joyner notified his team of the situation in the pre-match huddle and asked them what they needed to do. Joyner didn’t know who responded – nor did he care – because the entire team agreed that they had to play harder.
Southern Nash couldn’t let an opportunity escape it with a chance to reach the third round of the NCHSAA state playoffs.
The Firebirds played like it, smothering any possible overconfidence and overwhelming Corinth-Holders in a 7-2 victory.
“It’s a competition,” said Joyner, who told his team that he wished both squads would have been at 100 percent. “We can’t say, ‘Ah, we feel sorry for them.’ We’ve got to win. That’s what we’ve got to do. You don’t want to let up and you don’t want to relax and say we’ve got this.
“That’s the worst thing you can do.”
Southern Nash (13-2), which will play Chapel Hill next Tuesday, took a quick 4-0 advantage behind four straight-set victories.
“It doesn’t really matter who’s playing, you just have to be ready for whoever is out there,” Corey Ellington said.
After a win at No. 2 doubles by Cody Thorne and Jordan Decosse, there was a collective exhale on the court. Southern Nash played with less worry, and Corinth-Holders (11-3) played with less care.
The Firebirds finished off the Pirates at No. 3 and rallied past a defeated Corinth-Holders’ duo at No. 1 to claim a victory, possibly setting up a rematch of last year’s first-round matchup.
“We beat this team earlier in the season, and we knew we could do it again,” Decosse said. “... We just had to go out there and play, that’s all that came down to it.”
Chapel Hill defeated Southern Nash in the first round last year.
Southern Nash came into Tuesday knowing that it had a chance to earn its chance at revenge. The Firebirds defeated the Pirates, 5-3, earlier this year and were leading in No. 2 doubles when it became too dark to play.
In that match, the Pirates won at No. 1 singles and No. 2 singles in third-set tiebreakers.
Even if Corinth-Holders had its No. 1 singles player, William Xia, who was undefeated in dual team play but missed the match with a stomach illness, the Firebirds would have played the same way.
“It still would have been a tough match (Tuesday),” Joyner said. “They still could have won. It could have gone either way, whether he’s here or not.”
Southern Nash’s No. 6 Mike Portillo also missed the match with a stomach illness.
Justin Hite can be reached at 407-9951 or firstname.lastname@example.org