Photo from L to R is Gray Johnson, Rhonda Loeb (Tennis Coach) and Isaac Johnson.
Photo from L to R is Gray Johnson, Rhonda Loeb (Tennis Coach) and Isaac Johnson.
 RIDGELAND – First things first, Isaac Johnson and Gray Johnson are not brothers.

“I mean, we look so much alike can’t you tell,” deadpanned Gray, tongue in cheek.

Neither is adopted, either, although they often joke about it. “It’s his week this week,” Isaac said, with a big grin as he pointed toward his playing partner.

The two have, however, known each other since the fourth grade, when they first met in the Homeroom Express afterschool program at MRA. That familiarity, along with their considerable skills on the tennis court, have morphed together to form a rather formidable No. 1 doubles tandem for the Patriots this season.

Johnson and Johnson added another chapter to their longtime friendship here on a cool, overcast Thursday morning at Ridgeland Tennis Center, winning the MAIS Class AAAA-Division I state championship with a 7-6 (7-0), 6-1 victory over James McLemore and Charles Beneke of Jackson Academy.

The victory in the title match capped an undefeated season for the Johnson’s, who went 10-0 during the regular season and 2-0 in the postseason. They overcame early nerves and uneven play, rallying from 4-5 and 6-5 deficits to win the first set in a tie breaker before coasting to their 12th straight victory against no defeats this season with a dominant second set.

“(The first set) was probably the worst set we have played all season,” said Isaac, a junior. “We usually start off slow. . . it usually takes a game or two for us to get going. It took a little bit longer than that today, but eventually we did. One we got down in that first set we took it to another level.”

“That first set was tough,” said Gray, a senior. “I was a little nervous. I was hitting a lot of balls out, but as soon as I got a few to fall in for me, I got my head on straight and settled down. After we got down 5-6, we just turned it on from that point.”

Trailing 5-6 and in danger of losing the first set – with Gray serving – MRA didn’t lose a point in knotting the score 6-6. Johnson and Johnson then essentially seized control of the match by winning seven consecutive points in the tiebreaker.

Isaac also went undefeated a year ago en route to winning the No. 2 singles title, so Thursday marked back-to-back state championships for the easy-going Johnson – one in singles and one in doubles. Grey also won a state championship in No. 1 doubles two years ago, so he now has two state titles to his name in the past three years.

“That’s two straight for me, and Gray gets to go out on top as a senior winning another one, so it was a good day for both of us,” Isaac said.

 Unfortunately, it wasn’t such a good day for their teammates London Breedlove and Braden Ishee, who were each vying for state titles on Thursday. Breedlove, who teamed with Tyler Burke a year ago to win a mixed doubles state title, lost her No. 1 singles match 6-0, 6-0 to Jackson Academy’s Meredith Roberts (TCU signee). And Braden Ishee lost his No. 2 singles match 6-2, 7-5 to Andrew Sweat of Jackson Prep.

    The MRA boys and girls finished third in the team standings. While MRA tennis coach Rhonda Loeb was hoping for a higher finish, she was pleased to see her No. 1 doubles team walk away with state championship plaques. Isaac and Gray each played singles a year ago, but Loeb had the vision to team them up this season. Needless to say, it worked out well.

“Gray prefers doubles over singles, and I thought he and Isaac would be good together,” Loeb said.

“I felt like they would have a good chance of winning it together, and that’s how it worked out. I’m very proud of them. They’ve had an outstanding season.”