By Josh Brown
TROY — Before their first set was even over, Troy’s Luke Oaks and Butler’s Justin Kopronica knew their match would be the deciding factor — maybe even in the whole Greater Western Ohio Conference North Division.
After an hour and a half, all four other matches were complete, the teams were even at 2-2 … and the tiebreaker at first singles was knotted up at 10-10.
In the end, though, after both evenly-matched players had thrown everything possible and then some at each other and with the rest of both teams cheering them on, Kopronica was finally able to pull ahead at the end of a back-and-forth tiebreaker, winning a grueling first set 7-6 (14-12) and closing out the match 6-1 in the second set to give the Aviators a 3-2 victory overall Thursday at Troy High School.
The win gave the defending GWOC North champion an early leg up as Butler improved to 5-1 and 2-0 in the North, while Troy dropped its first match of the season and is now 6-1, 0-1 in the North. Last season, Butler beat Troy 4-1 in the matchup that decided the title.
“We’ve lost to Butler before, and to be that close is tough,” Troy tennis coach Mark Goldner said. “But you know what? Luke and Justin, those guys play each other all winter long, for the past five, six, seven years they’ve played each other so many times — and they could turn around and play tomorrow and it could turn out the opposite of today. That’s how evenly-matched those guys are.”
At third singles, Troy’s Matt Schmitt cruised to a 6-0, 6-0 win over Butler’s Craig Fishbein, but at second singles Butler’s Nicola Manning defeated Connor Oaks 6-1, 6-0 and at second doubles Butler’s Kyle Woodruff and Matt Berry knocked off Aaron Coon and Jack Johnston 6-1, 6-1.
With the Oaks-Kopronica tiebreaker battle in full swing, Troy’s first doubles team of Matt Alexander and Ian Stutz closed out a 6-3, 6-3 win over Butler’s Morgan Jackson and Morris Ramirez, putting all eyes on first singles.
“First doubles played really well. I know they were happy to win that match,” Goldner said. “And Matt took care of business at third singles. We knew Butler’s second singles was a tough player, and their second doubles is just a bit better.”
Oaks built a three-game lead in the first set riding an early wave of momentum to a service break at 3-1 and a hold at 4-1. But Kopronica held his serve then broke back at love to close to within 4-3, Oaks broke back to make it 5-3 but Kopronica won two straight to tie things up at 5-5. Oaks held his serve to make it 6-5 and seemed to have momentum on his side again, but one of the balls broke open, forcing a long enough delay for Kopronica to settle down and fight back to force the tiebreaker.
“Luke got up 4-1, was up again 5-4 and 6-5, but he just couldn’t close it out,” Goldner said.
Kopronica took the early lead in the tiebreaker, too, but at one point he made a fault call on a serve that Oaks didn’t agree with, and a line judge was called for. The move worked in Oaks’ favor, as he ran off the next five points in a row to get back into contention, including putting away a big volley at the net after an incredibly long rally for the fifth straight point. Things remained even from that point on, though, until the players both met at the net on one points. Oaks fought off three straight volleys and Koprinica finally hit one into the net, giving Oaks an 8-7 lead and set point.
But Kopronica evened the score with a smash at the net to erase the set point — the first of many that both would fight off.
A Kopronica double fault gave Oaks a 9-8 lead, but Oaks double faulted right back to tie the score. An error by Oaks at the net gave Kopronica a set point, but he double faulted his advantage away to make it 10-10 just as first doubles was coming off the court. Kopronica hit one into the net again to give the advantage to Oaks, but another double fault evened things up yet again.
“They both just got really tight at that point. You could just see it in both of them,” Goldner said. “They both double faulted away a few chances, and Luke had one volley that he just didn’t come all the way through that could have ended it.”
A serve-and-volley attempt by Oaks didn’t work and gave Kopronica a 12-11 lead, but an Oaks winner kept the set going. But Kopronica held on his last service attempt to take a 13-12 lead, and Oaks hit one into the net after a long rally, giving the first set to Kopronica.
From there, the points didn’t get any shorter or less competitive, but Kopronica just seemed to have the mental edge at the end of them. Oaks got down 1-0 to start the set but evened things up at 1-1, and Kopronica built a 4-1 edge. Oaks worked hard to hold his serve in the next game, but Kopronica won it in the first deuce to make it 5-1 and held his own serve to finish the match — which ended up clocking in at two-and-a-half hours.
“The first set was going to determine the match,” Goldner said. “When you play a tiebreaker that goes to 14-12, the pressure just gets so high that usually the guy that gets down stays there, unless you come out real hot to start that next set. But they’re both really good players, and I’m sure they’ll see each other again at the GWOC meet and in the sectional tournament.”
Troy is off until Monday when it faces Urbana.
Contact Josh Brown at (937) 440-5251 or email@example.com, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.