A.C. Flora qualified for the Class 3A state boys tennis championship match for the first time in eight years by nipping Region 4 rival River Bluff, 4-2, Wednesday in the Upper State final.
All five singles matches required a tiebreaker, but the difference came with a 6-3, 7-5 Falcons win at No. 2 doubles by senior Richard Kneece and eighth-grader Zach Kirkland.
“It doesn’t get any closer than this,” first-year Flora coach Amy Martin said. “All of the singles matches went to tiebreakers, and we lost four of the five first sets. Some players complain and do not want to play doubles, but we’ve seen how important it can be. Richard and Zach knew what was at stake, and they came through like they have all season.”
The Kneece-Kirkland team sports a 12-1 season record, including a 3-0 sweep against River Bluff.
“It came down to a point here and a point there, and they were just a little bit better than we were today,” said Gators coach Barry Keith, whose first-year teams finished 17-3.
“It was a great first year for the program, and hopefully we can build on this next year even though it will be up at 4A.”
It was the third meeting of the season between the region co-champions, and the outcome was as hotly contested as the previous two clashes. River Bluff was a 4-3 winner in the first match March 18. Flora won 4-2 in the rematch April 10 to catch the Gators at the top the Region 4-3A standings.
River Bluff picked up wins at the top two positions despite No. 1 singles player Logan Adkins being sidelined due to illness. Nikil Sairam and Hunter Benefield moved up to win at No. 1 and No. 2 singles, respectively, but A.C. Flora swept the other three singles matches even though Austin Power (No. 3), Alexander Glickman (No. 4) and Hal Fant (No. 5) all fell in their respective first sets.
The Falcons (18-4) next face Hilton Head – a winner against Wilson – on Saturday at the Cayce Tennis and Fitness Center. Flora claimed back-to-back state titles in 2004-05 and was the state runner-up in 2006.