LAURINBURG — Two years ago, Andrew Balzer and Brandon Ingram were a small part of something big.
Now they are a big part of something still pretty huge at Richmond Senior.
The duo has the Richmond boys tennis team on the verge of not only qualifying for its third consecutive appearance in the 4A state dual tournament, but perhaps a Southeastern Conference championship.
“When I started playing in 10th grade, I did it because my friends were doing it,” Ingram said. “Me, Andrew and John (Pittman) were athletes that were playing tennis. Now we have become tennis players through the years.”
Balzer and Ingram are the No. 2 and 3 singles players and have combined to form the Raiders’ top doubles team.
“I never imagined this when I started,” Balzer said. “We kept practicing and practicing and doing what we needed to do.”
The pair isn’t the only reason for Richmond’s recent success in tennis. Colt Auman has yet to lose a match as the team’s top singles player and is unbeaten in doubles with Pittman as his partner.
“I think we have just gotten lucky at the right time,” Ingram said. “Colt has been hitting since he was little and Andrew, John, Ryan (Watkins) and Zach (Leberth) have been getting better every year.”
The pair were members of the soccer team this fall, but Balzer admits to having a passion for tennis before stepping onto the court as a freshman.
“I’ve always loved tennis, I watched it when it was on TV when I was little,” he said.
Balzer and Ingram were undefeated in doubles this year heading into Monday’s matchup with SEC foe Scotland. The pair dropped its first match to Scotland’s Robert Beacham and Walker Davis.
Despite the doubles loss by Balzer and Ingram, Richmond rolled to a 7-2 victory to improve to 10-1 overall and 7-1 in the conference.
Auman, Ingram, Pittman, Watkins and Leberth were all victorious in singles, winning their contests in straight sets. Davis downed Balzer 7-6 (7-4), 5-7, 10-6.
In doubles, Auman-Pittman and Leberth-Watkins notched wins for the Raiders.
Richmond’s victory sets up a showdown with Pinecrest 4 p.m. today for first place in the SEC. If Richmond pulls out the win, it would tie Pinecrest atop the conference standings.
In the teams’ first matchup, the Patriots pulled out a 5-4 victory March 13 in Southern Pines.
“There’s kind of a little pressure because we know we have to win,” Balzer said. “We have worked hard for these kind of moments.”
— Sports editor Shawn Stinson may be reached at 910-997-3111, ext. 14 or on Twitter @scgolfer.