Late in the regular season, the Bishop Hendricken tennis team dropped a 4-3 decision to South Kingstown. The Hawks knew that if they got a rematch in the state championship, they would only need a little more to spring an upset.
The Hawks got the rematch on Monday, but it was the Rebels who had a little more.
South Kingstown won at No. 3 doubles, took a key match at No. 1 doubles – where Hendricken had won in the regular season – and then clinched the program’s 14th consecutive state championship with wins at No. 1 and No. 2 singles.
“We did what we wanted to do and we got here,” said head coach Mike Haxton. “I knew we were going to have to win at No. 1 and No. 2 doubles. I felt we had to get those points, and then it was going to be a toss-up. It was going to be tough.”
The Rebels have now won 10 of their 14 straight championships over Hendricken. The Hawks knew they had a shot to end the streak, but they also knew things had to line up perfectly.
The Rebels were standing in their way.
On the doubles ladder, Hendricken thought it had a chance to win all three matches. In the May 16 match against the Rebels, Hendricken had posted victories at No. 1 and No. 2 doubles.
The lineup was different Monday, but Hendricken felt it was stronger. Carlos Arciniegas and Kelan Sullivan, the team’s top doubles players, had bounced around all year, but they joined forces for the playoffs and figured to give Hendricken a solid chance at No. 1 doubles. Matt Plouffe and Jeremy DiMeo, who had beaten South’s No. 1 doubles team, would drop to No. 2 doubles, while Christian Boyer and Marcus Caron would team up at No. 3 doubles.
It looked good on paper, but on the court, the Rebels had too much. At No. 3 doubles, South’s Sam Agostini and Jack Blessing made quick work of Boyer and Caron, winning 6-2, 6-1 to give the Rebels a 1-0 lead.
At No. 1 doubles, Arciniegas and Sullivan led 3-2 in the first set but ended up losing 6-4. The team of Robert Kermes and Sean Gorman – the state doubles champs – surged from there, winning the second set 6-1 to give the Rebels a commanding 2-0 lead.
“It was tough,” Haxton said. “We were up at No. 1 but we didn’t get there. I think maybe if you get the first set, they start thinking about it. Once they get the first set, then they’ve got the edge.”
Hendricken also lost the first set at No. 2 doubles and was fighting an uphill battle on the singles court. Freshman Jack Hoy picked up a win for the Hawks when he topped Derick Yang 6-3, 6-3 at No. 4 singles, but South had the edge everywhere else.
At No. 1 singles, South’s Tim Puterio rolled to a 6-0 victory in the first set over Nick Walsh. Walsh came back strong from there and led 4-3 in the second set before Puterio regrouped and won 6-4, putting the Rebels one win away.
With the No. 2 doubles match still going and the No. 3 singles match between Hendricken’s Zach Prinscott and South’s Jared Worthington still in the second set after a long first-set tiebreaker, it came down to No. 2 singles.
Connor Shumate delivered the point South needed. Hendricken’s Evan Chomka, who had a broken bone in his wrist and was essentially playing one-handed, managed to take four games off Shumate in the first set. But Shumate prevailed 6-4 then took control in the second set, taking a 5-0 lead before winning the championship-clinching game on a return by Chomka that landed long.
“Once they get three, it’s like the vultures are circling for that fourth point,” Haxton said.
As the Rebels celebrated, Hendricken was left to deal with one of the more emotional losses it’s had in all its championship meetings with South. Haxton, who has been at the helm for 11 years, had already announced that he was retiring.
Though the season didn’t end with a championship, the coach had nothing but praise for his final Hendricken team, a group that gave him one more shot at the Rebels.
“It’s an emotional match,” Haxton said. “The last time. It’s been a fun 11 years doing this. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”