Meridian, MS—The thrill of victory and the agony of defeat were in the balance in Saturday afternoon's tennis tussle—a real barn burner—between the Marion Military Institute Tigers and the Itawamba Community College Indians at the Northeast Tennis Center. The match shifted back and forth, with neither team backing off or giving up. When the last point had been played and the smoke had cleared, the Tigers had outlasted the Indians, 5-4. The match was decided by the meager margin of two points.
"I knew going in that the match was going to be tough," Coach Wright said. "The Indians had a spectacular year last year, winning the Mississippi State and NJCAA Region 23 titles. They returned five starters from that year's team, so I knew they had a veteran and battle-tested team this year. They weren't going to be slouches and they weren't going to roll over and hand us the match."
In doubles action, the Tigers notched two of the three doubles points, but MMI's stalwart tandem of Morgan Hale and Andrew Wright, the No. 15th-ranked JUCO doubles team, was upset, 9-8 (4), by the athletic and fierce-hitting Itawamba duo of Nathaniel Pinkney and Cody Coins. MMI's Kaiser De Leon and Javier de Claire escaped with an 8-6 win at No. 2 doubles, and MMI's Marty Birchmeier and Patrick Ryder tallied an 8-4 win at No. 3 doubles.
Then the match got interesting.
Itawamba roared to a 4-3 lead by scoring points at singles slots 2, 4, and 6. Itawamba's Austin McElwain edged MMI's Hale at No. 2 singles, 6-4, 7-5; Itawamba's Cody Coins scalped MMI's Ryder, 6-2, 6-1, at No. 4 singles; and Itawamba's Drew Ballard outlasted MMI's Birchmeier, 7-6 (5), 6-3. De Leon staunched the Itawamba singles surge with a 6-4, 6-4 win over Pinkney at No. 1 singles.
Meanwhile, MMI's Wright at No. 3 singles and de Claire at No. 5 singles had taken one-set-to-none leads. Wright won his first set, 6-3, and de Claire won his first set, 7-5.
Calamity struck de Claire in the second set, though, as he ran out of rackets. Broken strings and Itawamba's Mark Robbins prevailed in the second set, 6-2. Using Ben Jandzinsk's racket, de Claire saw his play take a nosedive in the second set. The match now rested on Jandzinski's racket in de Claire's hands in a super tiebreaker. Not the ideal situation, to say the least.
Wright, in the meantime, was swapping games in the second set with David McElwain (no relation to Austin McElwain) and held a slim 4-3 lead.
As the super tiebreaker progressed, de Claire finally lunged into the lead at 9-8. Then, at match point, de Claire took a tremendous swing and walloped a forehand down the line for a clean winner. Super tiebreaker, set, and match! Almost simultaneously, Wright closed out his match with a 6-4 second-set win. The Tigers had roared back from the abyss of defeat to claim the victory, 5-4.
The Tigers return to Meridian, MS, to play Meridian Community College (9:30 a.m.) and Hinds Community College (2:00 p.m.) at the Meridian Community College tennis courts on Saturday, February 21.