Laney rules the courts

Laney's Jake McDonough returns a shot against Hoggard's Noah Milliken during the Mideastern Conference Tennis Tournament at Empie Park on Wednesday, April 24, 2013. (Photo by Matt Born)

The Laney High School boys tennis team swept the singles and double titles Wednesday at the Mideastern Conference Tennis Tournament at the Althea Gibson Tennis Complex at Empie Park. 

Buccaneer senior AJ Stilwell and Hoggard’s Noah Milliken engaged in an extended singles final. Stilwell finally closed out the second conference singles title of his career, by scores of 5-7, 6-1, 6-4. 

The Laney tandem of Reid Gilbert and Patrick Ryder defeated Jack Sandlin and Marshall Waren of New Hanover 6-3, 0-6, 6-1 for the doubles championship. 

In the singles final, Milliken played inspired tennis in taking the first set. He came into the match having dropped both regular-season meetings against Stilwell. 

Stilwell openly expressed displeasure with his play during the opening frame, before gathering his composure. 

“I felt like a huge factor was my tight hitting; very tight with the ball,” Stilwell said. “I feel like experience and perseverance really helped me today. I felt like I dug deep and persevered.”

“AJ missed some shots today (early on) I’ve never seen him miss,” Laney coach Ruby Sutton said. “But he pulled it out. He did what he was supposed to do at the right time. 

“Noah is a good competitor. They always have great matches.”

Sutton also talked about her doubles team rallying back, after Sandlin and Waren bolted through the second set to pull the Wildcats even at 1-1. 

“In the second set, they relaxed and they went back on the court without any momentum,” Sutton said. “Then, they went back in and they knew if they wanted to be champions, they had to play hard.

“Wonderful volleys. They were so creative with their volleys. I couldn’t ask for more.” 

The top three finalists from Wednesday’s tournament will advance to the state 4A individual playoffs, which start the weekend of May 3-4 in Fayetteville. The championship finals are slated for May 10-11 in Raleigh. 

The state 4A dual team playoffs begin Tuesday, with the state championship round slated for May 18. 

Jordan Frasier of Greenville Rose defeated New Hanover’s Grant Dunlap for third place in singles, by scores of 7-6, 6-1. And Hoggard’s Chase Horton and Evan Linett earned the third playoff spot in doubles with a 6-2, 6-3 win over Ashley’s Matt Harris and Ethan Tello.