Nate Calhoun didn't even realize his match Thursday with Wilson's Tyler Jackson would be the deciding one until Bluffton tennis coach Bob Brown approached him before his tiebreaker began.
"You win this and we win the match," Calhoun recalled his coach saying.
Not that it mattered. Calhoun thrives in those situations.
"I like playing under pressure," he said.
It showed, as Calhoun's 10-5 victory in the tiebreaker at No. 4 singles propelled the Bobcats to a 4-2 win over Wilson in the first round of the Class 3-A playoffs. For his efforts, Bluffton earned the right to play Socastee or Hilton Head Island High on Tuesday in the second round, where a victory would send the Bobcats (15-3) to the Lower State finals for the second consecutive year.
"(My heart) was pumping pretty fast, but the fans got me through it," he said with a smile. "I don't even remember the last time I was so nervous. It was awesome."
Calhoun got to that point after claiming a 7-5 victory in the first set before falling 6-1 in the second. With his Bobcats clinging to a 3-2 advantage, the senior would need to put away Jackson in a third set before the two teams went to a tiebreaker at No. 1 doubles.
After Brown was called in as a friend of the court, Calhoun built an early 3-1 and 6-3 lead before becoming more aggressive. He then clinched a win in the postseason opener after sending a ball just past Jackson's racket near the net, igniting an instant roar from his teammates, who sprinted onto the court to embrace the senior.
"We're all really close and we will be for a while," said Calhoun, who called his victory the biggest of his career. "We're excited for the next match and we'll see how we do."
The two teams split the first four singles matches, as Bluffton got wins out of Richard Snyder at No. 2 -- he knocked off Anard Chokski 6-2, 6-1 -- and out of Aaron Newland at No. 5, who bested Benjamin Ciu, 6-1, 6-2. Diego Garcia and Matt Bornstein then cruised in No. 2 doubles, setting the stage for Calhoun to put the finishing touches on the victory.
"It's huge for Nate," Brown said. "It's huge for the seniors."
Brown lauded Calhoun's constant progression this year, as the veteran was forced to play at No. 3 singles for the past month for Davis Rosenblum, who was lost for about five weeks after dislocating his knee. It wasn't until the playoff opener that Rosenblum finally returned to the court.
"Nate stepped up through the season," Brown said. "He had to play No. 3, so he's always under pressure. He delivered for us today."
Calhoun got to step up one more time Thursday afternoon, as he and his teammates each took turns atop a ladder hanging up their second straight Region 7-AAA champions banner along the fence at court No. 1. The group is hoping they'll be able put up another banner before this season ends.
"I don't know how far these guys are going to go, but our mantra was 'one more step,' " Brown said. "That would be winning the Lower State championship. They've shown up every single match."
Bluffton 4, Wilson 2
Singles: No. 1 Ryan Space (Wilson) def. Chris Davis 6-0, 6-2; No. 2 Richard Snyder (Bluffton) def. Anard Chokski 6-2, 6-1; No. 3 Zachary Zhao (Wilson) def. Davis Rosenblum 6-3, 6-3; No. 4 Nate Calhoun (Bluffton) def. Tyler Jackson 7-5, 1-6, 10-5; No. 5 Aaron Newland (Bluffton) def. Benjamin Ciu 6-1, 6-2.
Doubles: Diego Garcia/Matthew Bornstein (Bluffton) def.Taveon Haile/Jaquan Edwards 6-2, 6-3.