The Jackson County boys’ tennis team edged Greenbrier for the regular-season region championship, but the 8-AAAAA tournament saw the two evenly-matched squads swap places.
The Panthers fell 3-2 to Greenbrier Wednesday (April 14) in the region finals at Victor Lord Park in Winder to finish as 8-AAAAA runners-up.
“There’s nothing to hang our heads about,” Jackson County coach Wayne Brooks said. “Because we beat them in the regular season and we lost to them in the postseason, so I think we’re in a good place. That’s why I look forward to the state tournament.”
Brooks pointed out that this is Jackson County’s first season as members of Region 8-AAAAA.
“This is the first time we’ve played in 5A, and I feel like we’ve done a great job this year, both boys and girls, so I just couldn’t be more proud,” Brooks said.
Jackson County won 3-2 during the teams’ March regular-season match, splitting the doubles matches in that victory. Greenbrier, however, tipped the scales this time by switching up its doubles pairings and sweeping those matches.
“It was what it was,” Brooks said. “I feel like we had a 50-50 shot when I saw they had split their doubles from what they did the first time when we played them during the regular season, and I was like ’It could go either way.’”
Xander Julian and Conrad Satkofsky fell at No. 1 doubles 6-2, 6-0. At No. 2 doubles, Bo Reeves and Garrett Julian lost a close first set, 7-5, and then dropped the second set 6-2.
“Sometimes losing that tight set can kind of break your psyche and then lead to what happened to us (Wednesday),” Brooks said.
The Panthers’ top two singles players — Kade Graves and Drake Tatar — delivered expected victories, with Graves winning 6-2, 6-0 and Tatar prevailing 7-5, 6-0. That left Bailey Hamm as the last Panther player left on the court at No. 3 singles with the match tied 2-2. Hamm fell 6-0, 6-0.
“I know Bailey fought to the last,” Brooks said. “He had some 20 and 30-stroke rallies. I think one time I actually counted 40 strokes, so I’m like, ‘What more can you ask from somebody?’”
While Jackson County was denied a region championship, the two-day tournament saw Graves set the school record for career wins at 60. Nick Bergeron held the old record at 58. Graves reached 60 wins despite the majority of last year’s schedule being canceled due to COVID-19.
“He’s set the bar … that’s a tough record,” Brooks said. “I think if we’d had a longer season last season, I can only imagine how many wins he could accrue. He’s still on par to be able to eclipse 25 wins this season. That’s if we make the state finals and he wins all the way through. That’s still a possibility.”
Jackson County will host Region 5-AAAAA No. 3 seed Chamblee most likely on Monday (April 19) in a tough first-round draw in the Class AAAAA state tournament. Chamblee won the 2019 Class AAAAA state championship.
“But we’ll use that as a whetstone, hopefully, to get us to the next round, and get us as deep as we can go in the state playoffs,” Brooks said.
The Jackson County boys’ team opened tournament play with a 3-0 win over Apalachee on Tuesday (April 13). Graves won 6-0, 6-0 at No. 1 singles, tying the school career wins record at 58. Tatar also won 6-0, 6-0 at No. 2 singles. The Panthers received a forfeit win at No. 3 singles.
The Panthers then won 3-1 over Clarke Central later in the today to earn a spot in the finals. Graves won 6-0, 6-0 at No. 1 singles to set the career wins record at 59, while Tatar won 6-2, 6-3 at No. 2 singles and Reeves and Garret Julian won 6-0, 6-0 at No. 2 doubles.
Meanwhile, the girls’ team lost in its first-round matchup on Tuesday to Clarke Central 3-1, ending its season. Emily King and Ansley Herrin provided the lone victory with a 6-1, 6-4 win at No. 1 doubles. Jackson County suffered close losses at No. 2 doubles and No. 2 singles.
“I am so proud of how they fought in that match though coming up short,” Brooks said.