ROCKINGHAM — Two years ago, the Richmond Senior boys tennis team earned a surprise wild-card berth into the 4A state dual-team tournament.
Last season, Richmond finished in a tie for second in the Southeastern Conference with Lumberton. The Raiders defeated the Pirates in a tie-breaking match to once again advance to the dual-team tournament.
And this year, the team has its sights set on a bigger prize — winning the SEC title.
“We will see how Pinecrest is,” said Andrew Balzer, Richmond’s No. 2 singles player. “If we beat them, then it’s a straight shot to the championship.”
Richmond will get their first look at Pinecrest 4 p.m. Thursday in Southern Pines.
Brandon Ingram believes the Raiders have benefited from playing in the dual-team tournament even though it lost 5-1 against Green Hope in 2012 and 6-0 at home to Hoggard last year.
“It gave us experience,” said Ingram, the No. 3 singles player. “We never hit against anyone who hit it that hard or can place it like those teams did. I think the last couple of years Pinecrest has been top heavy and those teams were solid up and down their lineup.”
Balzer added the Raiders are focused on claiming the conference championship and has been practicing during its fourth block.
“The answer is going to come Thursday when we see how Pinecrest is,” first-year coach Mike James. “The kids’ mentality is they can do it.”
Richmond returns its top four players — Colt Auman, John Pittman, Balzer and Ingram — from last season. James said it is nice being able to have experience at the top of his singles and doubles lineup.
“It’s good having veteran players,” James said. “We’re working on our five and six. Ryan Watkins has been sick the last two days and should be our No. 5. When we get him back, we will look for our No. 6.”
Richmond wins third straight
It was a little tougher than James would have liked it, but Richmond improved to 3-0 on the season and 2-0 in the SEC with a 6-3 victory over Lumberton Tuesday afternoon.
Auman cruised to a 6-2, 6-0 victory over Lumberton’s Alec Dent in the top singles spot. Auman has only lost three games this season.
Balzer defeated Trevor Franklin 6-1, 6-4 at No. 2. Brandon Ingram downed Thomas Bailey 6-0, 6-1. Ingram has dropped only two games in the three matches. Pittman stopped Jacob Risen 6-0, 6-4.
Lumberton picked up two points at the fifth and sixth singles spots. Drew Bollinger upended Zach Leberth 6-3, 6-4 at No. 5 and Dominic Dent outlasted Hill Pence 6-4, 3-6, 10-8.
In doubles, Balzer and Ingram defeated Alec Dent Bailey 8-4. Auman and Pittman rallied from an early deficit to beat Franklin and Risen 8-2. Dominic Dent and Bollinger downed Leberth and Pence 8-2.
— Sports editor Shawn Stinson may be reached at 910-997-3111, ext. 14 or on Twitter @scgolfer.