By GREG MENGELT
FLOYDS KNOBS —
All eyes were on Floyd Central’s Justin Batliner and Jeffersonville’s Austin Hunt and their No. 2 singles match at Wednesday’s Floyd Central Regional championship.
With the Highlanders and Red Devils tied at 2-2, Batliner and Hunt both battled through cramps into a second-set tiebreaker.
Batliner used precision shots that made Hunt’s aching legs chase down the ball all over the court.
In the end, the Jeff sophomore’s legs weren’t able to keep up and Batliner’s 7-4 victory in the tiebreaker gave the Highlanders their 23rd regional championship in school history.
Batliner, who won the first set 6-4, admitted that the matches on the other courts kept his attention throughout the evening. He knew when Jeff’s No. 2 doubles team of Jack Reilly and Sam Coward defeated Andrew Nguyen and Codie Endris, a regional title was on his racket.
“I knew I had to pull it out, somehow, some way or another,” the Floyd senior said. “I kind of knew the [regional championship] was going to come down to me. Once [Nguyen and Endris lost], I knew I was going to have to start playing like I could.”
“We told him he was going to be the hero,” Highlander coach Rick Miller said. “Justin’s been playing great tennis the last couple weeks. Justin deserves this moment.”
“I can’t imagine what he was feeling with every set of eyes that came to watch the regional on his court,” Floyd Central senior Drew Hussung said. “It took a lot of guts.”
Batliner said it is a victory he will always cherish.
“It means a lot,” he said. “I’ve never been the last one. It feels good to be the deciding person to get us to semistate.”
Although he had some cramping issues himself earlier in the match, Batliner said he knew he could beat Hunt by making him run.
“I knew I was going to have to run him because he couldn’t run,” Batliner said. “I was cramping up a little myself, but I fought through it.”
“It was a hard-fought match,” Hunt said. “I couldn’t really move and he did a good job of moving me around.”
“That was our whole strategy,” Miller said. “Austin’s a big kid and he’s not as fast as a lot of guys. We wanted to run him. He’s a great player, but we wanted to make sure he was going to have to move for every point. Nothing standing still.”
Despite being attended to for his cramp and an obvious hobble, the Jeffersonville sophomore never surrendered from the time the time he started cramping at 2-2 of the second set.
“I knew I had to get up and fight to the end,” he said.
“I hate that the match came down to cramps,” Red Devil coach Mark Reilly said. “I can’t believe that it happened. [Hunt] shouldn’t feel bad about it. He showed a lot of heart. I hope it makes him more determined.”
Floyd opened the day with a 6-4, 6-0 win by Hussung and Stone at No. 1 doubles. Stoner was in a car accident after school while going to get dinner. However, he fought through some nerves to help the duo win 10 of the last 11 points against Chase Kayrouz and Justin Padgett.
“I was feeling OK [physically], but I was shaken up at the beginning of the match,” Stoner said. After we got a break at 2-3 in the first set, I started to forget about [the accident] and started playing tennis.”
Ryan Plunkett secured the Highlanders’ second point with a 6-3, 6-3 win over Brock Winchell at No. 3 singles.
The Highlanders lost to Jeffersonville twice during the season, making the regional victory even sweeter.
“Everybody was saying we couldn’t do it, but we kept working at it and kept doing what we needed to do to beat them,” Hussung said. “We kept working against their weaknesses and that’s what got us through.”
“It makes my heart swell inside,” a tearful Miller said. “Who knows how many more years I have to coach, so this is special. This is one of the most special ones. Jeff beat us both times. It was just an awesome experience for the kids.”
Jeff senior Jordy Rigsby made quick work of Alex Martin at No. 1 singles with a 6-2, 6-1 triumph. Coward and Reilly — both freshmen — improved to 22-1 with a 7-6 (8-6), 6-4 win over Nguyen and Endris.
Rigsby, who will play the winner of New Albany’s Kyle Landrum and Charlestown’s Chris Braun in Friday’s No. 1 singles sectional championship, is the only senior for Jeff that played in the regional.
“Jeff’s going to be really, really good,” Miller said. “They’re going to be the team to beat next year.”
“I’m very, very pleased with this team,” Jeff coach Mark Reilly said. “Even today, of course I’m disappointed we lost, but I’m very happy with how hard this team worked.”
Floyd will face sixth-ranked Jasper at Saturday’s Jasper Semistate.
“Jasper is loaded in doubles and their singles are good, but they’re not like Jeff’s,” Miller assessed. “We’re going to have to see if we can win some points in singles. We’re not going down there to lose.”
BRAUN MOVES ON
Braun will continue his impressive senior season on Thursday after a 6-3, 6-0 victory over Corydon Central’s Quinton Coffman.
Braun, now 24-1 on the season, will face Landrum today at 5 p.m.
“I’ve put in a lot of hard work the last four summers,” Braun said. “Tennis is my life right now and it means a lot to get this far.”
Braun and Landrum haven’t met in a high school match, but they do play together in the summer time.
“I expect a really good match,” Braun said. “It will be a fun, fast-paced match.”