CONYERS - The Heritage boys tennis team is one step away from another trip to the Class AAAA Final Four.
The Patriots (18-5) advanced to the quarterfinals with a 4-1 victory over visiting Cherokee on Tuesday. However, the match was a lot closer than the final score indicates.
"We won 4-1, but the match was a lot closer than that," Heritage coach Chuck Landy said. "We knew Cherokee was going to be tough. We had some really tough, close matches, especially in singles.
"It's fantastic to be going to the third round again. These guys have worked extremely hard and it's a great accomplishment. You're getting down to an elite group of teams that's going to be left, and it's great to be a part of that."
Once again, the doubles teams set the early tone for Heritage.
J.J. Ramsey and Jacob Zirbel put the Patriots in front 1-0 with a 6-6, 6-2 victory over Matt Whitaker and Jeremiah Bass at No. 2 doubles.
Heritage's Brad Hardin and Blake Craft pushed the advantage to 2-0 with a 6-4, 6-3 win over Chris Creekmur and Stephen Ballis at No. 1 doubles.
"We're counting on those guys. They've played well all year and they came through today," Landy said. "Jacob and J.J. came out and played extremely well. They came out and set a good tone. Brad and Blake always play hard and compete well."
And then, things got interesting - really interesting - in the singles matches.
Heritage's Zach Landy took the first set 6-1 at No. 2 singles, but then lost the second set 6-4 to Cherokee's Jack Singleton.
Heritage's Jonathan Stone dropped his first set 6-3 against Max Singleton at No. 1 singles, but rallied to tie the match by taking the second set 6-2.
In fact, for about a 20-minute stretch, the match appeared to be up for grabs as the Warriors took early leads in the third sets of both singles matches.
But Stone rallied to claim the third set 6-3 and wrap up victory for the Patriots.
Moments later, Landy completed his own third-set rally, winning 6-4 after being down 3-1 at one point.
"Once you get to this level, everybody's going to have good singles players, one or two and usually three that can line up and play," Landy said. "Our goal is to win the doubles matches and find a way to win a singles match. With Jonathan and Zach, we always have a chance (to win).
"I kept thinking I'd rather be us than them, because we're the ones that have a 2-0 lead. But it was tight. The whole time I just kept thinking we're going to be OK if we can get a lead on either court. Sure enough, in the third sets, we got leads on both courts. Jonathan finished it out and then Zach was able to finish."
Cherokee's Brian Hammond won at No. 3 singles with a 6-2, 6-2 decision over Heritage's Cody Provence.
Heritage will face the winner of the Chapel Hill-Marist match in the quarterfinals. If Marist wins, Heritage will play on the road. If Chapel Hill prevails, the Patriots will play at home.
The quarterfinal round must be completed by May 6.
Jeff Gillespie can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.