After four individual matches against South Kingstown on Wednesday afternoon, the Bishop Hendricken tennis team had the 13-time defending state champions on the ropes.
The Hawks just couldn’t quite deliver the knockout blow.
Needing four total points for the victory, Hendricken took an early 3-1 lead. But the Rebels showed why they’re the favorites to win the Division I title for the 14th consecutive year, as they rebounded to get wins at No. 1 and No. 2 singles, as well as No. 3 doubles to grind out the 4-3 victory.
For Hendricken – which lost 6-1 to South Kingstown on April 3 – it wasn’t all bad. Not only did the Hawks show improvement from the first time the two teams met, they gained the confidence to believe that if they end up facing the Rebels in the state finals, they have a shot at coming out on top.
“I’m optimistic,” Hendricken head coach Michael Haxton said. “After watching SK the first match I thought, ‘These guys are just loaded. No one is going to touch them.’ Today, we came close, and that’s what these kids are going to take from it.”
South Kingstown improved to 14-0. Hendricken fell to 12-3 with the loss, and it has one match remaining on the season – Monday, at 12-2 La Salle, with the results unavailable at press time.
With a win, the Hawks would be the No. 2 seed and earn a first round bye in the playoffs, which are scheduled to begin on Wednesday. A loss would send them to the No. 3 seed.
“Our eyes are looking up at La Salle,” Haxton said. “These guys want the No. 2 seed. We want the bye.”
Hendricken certainly looked like a team that wanted to prove something early on Wednesday.
South Kingstown took a 1-0 lead when Jared Worthington beat Zach Prinscott 6-2, 6-4 at No. 3 singles, but the next three matches went in the Hawks’ favor.
First, Matt Plouffe and Jeremy DiMeo overcame a 0-6 performance in the first set at No. 1 doubles to win the next two sets 6-3, 6-1 over Sean Gorman and R.J. Kermes, evening the match at one.
“My doubles teams are peaking now,” Haxton said. “We’ll see what happens.”
At No. 4 singles, Hendricken freshman Jack Hoy avenged a three-set loss to Derick Yang from the first time the two teams met, this time winning in straight sets 6-4, 6-2.
“Jack got beaten in three, and he hasn’t lost since then,” Haxton said. “Jack’s a good player.”
Armed with a 2-1 lead, Hendricken made it 3-1 when its No. 2 doubles team of Christian Boyer and Kelan Sullivan took out the team of Julius Sun and Nicholas Agel 3-6, 6-4, 6-3.
With three matches left, the Rebels needed to win them all to keep their perfect season intact.
They did just that.
The comeback began at No. 2 singles, where Connor Shumate defeated Evan Chomka 6-3, 6-1. At No. 1 singles, Tim Puterio knocked off Hendricken’s Nick Walsh 6-1, 6-4 in a battle of two of the top players in the state.
“I look at where we won and where we lost,” Haxton said. “Tim and Nick, they’re two top-ranked players. It’s going to be whoever is on their game that day.”
That left No. 3 doubles, where Hendricken’s duo of Carlos Arciniegas and Marcus Caron took a 5-2 lead in the first set and looked like they were on their way to clinching the win for the Hawks.
But South Kingstown’s Sam Agostini and Jack Blessing battled back in that set, forcing a tiebreaker and eventually winning the set 7-6 with a 7-5 win in the tiebreak. In the second set, they cruised, winning 6-2 to finish off the match.
“They were up 5-2,” Haxton said. “That’s a tough one to lose.”
Yet, with the playoffs just around the corner, Hendricken knows it has a lot to be excited about.
While Walsh and Chomka have yet to solve Puterio and Shumate this year, Prinscott won at No. 3 singles over Worthington in the teams’ first meeting. Hoy now has a win over Yang, and Hendricken has two doubles teams with victories under their belts.
That means that if the Hawks are able to put all of that together on one day, they could have what it takes to de-throne the Rebels.
“Against SK, I told the kids we’ve got to get two singles, two doubles,” Haxton said. “We got our two doubles today, we didn’t get our two singles.”
Following the South Kingstown match, Hendricken continued its solid play with a 7-0 victory over Westerly on Friday. Walsh won 6-1, 6-0 at No. 1, Chomka won 6-2, 6-0 at No. 2, Prinscott won 6-0, 6-0 at No. 3 and Arciniegas – who replaced Hoy in the lineup for the match – won 7-6 (7-4), 6-0 at No. 4.
The No. 1 doubles team of Plouffe and DiMeo won 6-2, 6-0, the No. 2 duo of Boyer and Casey Hodor won 7-6 (7-4), 6-2 and the No. 3 group of Caron and Christopher Mattioli won 6-2, 6-0.
Now, after another successful regular season, Hendricken’s lone goal is to reach the finals so it can give itself a chance at raising its first state championship trophy since 1993.
This is also the final season as coach for Haxton, who is stepping aside at year’s end.
“It’s my last hurrah,” Haxton said. “I want to get to South Kingstown against us in the finals up at Slater, and who knows. Maybe we break their streak, and I go out with a big smile on my face.”
The quarterfinal round of the playoffs is slotted for Wednesday, with the semifinals to be played on Thursday at 3 and 5 p.m.
The state championship will then be held on Saturday at 10 a.m.
All the D-I games will take place at Pawtucket’s Slater Park.
“We came real close to beating the defending champions,” Haxton said. “And like I told them, ‘It’s the last match of the year that counts, not this one.’”