ROCKINGHAM — It may not have been a winning season for the Richmond boys tennis team, but head coach Patrick Hope believes his players proved just how close they are to bringing the team within the top half of the conference.
The Raiders earned two shutout wins, came within one match of defeating both Lumberton and Jack Britt — two of the SAC’s top four teams — in a pair of home games back in March, and competed well enough in the conference tournament to receive a doubles bid to the NCHSAA 4A Mideast Regionals.
And it all happened in Hope’s first season.
“It was my first year ever doing anything with tennis, so there was a lot of trial and error from the coaching perspective, but I knew we’d have pretty good kids who understood the game and were going to work hard,” he said. “It might not have shown in all the matches, but I think we really showed the depth we had in a really good conference.”
Richmond, which finished with a 4-8 conference record, lost its first two SAC games by the same score, 8-1, to Pinecrest and Jack Britt. The team’s lone point in both matches came from freshman Bradford Pittman in the singles.
Pittman was one of the more consistent players, ending his first varsity season with a 9-4 record in singles — the second most wins on the team. He won four matches as No. 5, five matches at the No. 6 spot and split his losses between the two.
The freshman, as did senior Kristofer Spivey, came close to earning a singles bid to Regionals but fell ultimately fell shy of making the cut with a loss in the consolation bracket at the conference tournament.
“I thought he was a really big surprise for us playing on the back end” Hope said of Pittman. “I think he turned a lot of heads at the conference tournament and got a chance to see what the higher seeds play like.”
The Raiders grabbed their first win of the season with a 9-0 rout of conference foe Hoke County, a day after the loss to Jack Britt, getting golden sets (6-0, 6-0) from sophomore Miles Harrington and senior Jose Jaramillo in the No. 3 and No. 5 singles, respectively. Their other three victories were over Purnell Swett, twice, and another dominant effort against Hoke.
Harrington performed at the No. 3 spot all season and his twin brother, Austin, took the responsibility as the team’s No. 1 singles player. The two combined for six wins in singles and won four more as the No. 1 doubles duo.
“With the twins, the coaches around the conference say that they’re some of the more talented kids they’ve seen,” Hope said. “I feel like if they can work on their mental approach and play more of the high-percentage game, they’ll be able to do some great things here in the next two years.”
The duo that made it to Regionals, however, consisted of junior Kevin Campos and senior Jimmy Cooley, who ran into third-seeded duo Davis Cromer and Zach Tapper from Durham Jordan at Cary Tennis Park — where Regionals were held.
It was a quick match that Cromer and Tapper won by a score of 6-0, 6-0.
“We kind of knew it was going to be an uphill battle, but we were glad to be able to see tennis at that level,” Hope said. “That group that we played against ended up making the semifinals of the state tournament.”
Richmond’s progress throughout the season was right on pace with what Hope had wished for, saying “I just wanted us to be a better group at the end of the year than we were at the beginning, and I think we did that.” He says each player was aware of what worked well, and what didn’t, and used whatever feedback they received to get better.
Looking forward to next year, the team will return a core group of guys who have already gained valuable experience. Along with the Harrington twins and Pittman, juniors Caleb Brewer and Mason Bailey — who played the No. 3 doubles this past season — will have a chance to fill a couple of the singles spots that will be open.
“One of the biggest things we’ll work on is our mental toughness because tennis is a game where anything can happen, and you’ve just got to be mentally tough to play it,” Hope said. “For me, I’ll be trying to move on from learning the basics to more of the advanced things (of the sport).”
Richmond’s Bradford Pittman "turned a lot of heads" during his freshman season, finishing with the second-most wins (9) on the team in singles play.
Reach sports editor Leon Hargrove Jr. by phone at 910-817-2673 or by email at [email protected] For stories, scores and updates, follow the Daily Journal’s sports section on Twitter @RCDailySports.