ROCKMART — The Jackets’ path to the state title is finally complete.
After waiting two extra days to play their final match in the GHSA Class AA state tennis playoffs, the Rockmart boys’ team defeated Early County by a tight 3-2 score Monday afternoon to win the state championship on its home courts.
“I couldn’t be more proud of these guys. I’ve been coaching this group since seventh grade, and I’ve watched them grow up,” Rockmart coach Barry Owen said. “There’s no one more deserving in the state than these guys. They’ve worked hard all through the season.”
On a team full of veteran players whom had proven their skills on the tennis court time and again in what had already been an unforgettable season, two seniors stepped up one final time in their high school career.
Down two matches to one, Rockmart singles players Bennett Vest and Timothy Malone both played won tiebreaker sets to take their contests and clinch the program’s first ever state championship.
Malone rallied with a 7-6, 6-1 finish at No. 2 singles and Vest won out 6-1, 7-5 at No. 3 singles.
It was Malone who was the last out on the courts when he won his final set, sending his teammates into a frenzy as they stormed the court in celebration and surrounded him.
The Shorter tennis commit was still almost speechless following the trophy presentation.
“I believed in my team, and we got it done,” Malone said. “I had their back. We got down, but we weren’t going to stay down.”
He added that “having this match at home meant the world to us.”
The match was initially set for Saturday at the Rome Tennis Center at Berry College, but rain forced the GHSA to postpone the remaining contests and Rockmart got to host the finals since it was the higher seed after winning the Region 7-AA title.
Winning Monday gives the Jackets a perfect 25-0 record, a run that caps off a three-year buildup in the Class AA state playoffs that saw them reach the Final Four last season before losing to Benedictine.
“We came out today and made sure everyone knew it was not a fluke,” Vest said.
Dillon Mahan and Gavin Tan won their No. 2 doubles match 6-2, 6-0 before No. 1 singles Jackson Norris fell 6-2, 6-2 and the No. 1 doubles team of Hunter England and Elijah Malone went out 6-0, 6-2 to the Bobcats.
With every other match done, the home crowd’s attention turned to Malone and Vest.
“Bennett had a tough match, a real grueling match. And Timothy pulled out that 7-6 tie-breaker in the first set. That takes a lot of nerves and calm,” Owen said. “Then he took over the second set, just like a senior should.”
The end of the season for the Jackets also marks the end for the team’s five seniors, who are set to graduate later this month. Owen said it is his hope that with a state title and the success the team has acquired in recent year they can keep the momentum going next spring.
“We have some good guys coming up,” he said. “I hope this championship spreads the word of tennis in Rockmart, and we get some more people out and involved in playing the game of tennis.”