April 15, 2011

Postseason Hopes Still Alive as Eastern Beats Portland State, 7-0

Eastern evens conference record to 4-4, which may be just enough for berth in postseason tourney

The Eastern Washington University men's tennis team delivered in a must-win match against the Vikings of Portland State on Friday (April 15) afternoon at the Jim Thorpe Fieldhouse in Cheney, Wash. The Eagles triumphed with a 7-0 sweep of PSU, and thus, remained in the running for a bid to the 2011 Big Sky Conference Championship, held April 21-23 in Bozeman, Mont.

With Portland State, Idaho State and Northern Colorado now officially out of playoff contention, Eastern will hold its breath as it awaits the scores from a number of other matches taking place this weekend between Montana, Montana State, Northern Arizona and Weber State. Sacramento State is the only team that has secured its bid to the tourney.

There are several scenarios that could occur over the next few days that will either help or ultimately dash Eastern's quest to get back in the postseason picture. Eastern missed a bid the Big Sky Championship last season, after three-straight appearances from 2007-09.

On Friday against the Viks, Eastern got off to a strong start, as it secured the ever-important doubles point with victories at No. 2 and 3.

After six-consecutive victories at No. 3 doubles, and 12 wins overall on the year, sophomore Chris Eriksson and freshman James Russell were promoted to the No. 2 spot against the Vikings. The dynamic duo didn't miss a beat, as it defeated Alex Vanderschelden and Vetu Mam, 8-6. Eriksson and Russell now boast an impressive 13-2 overall record on the year, which ties for the fourth-most single-season victories in school history. 

Juniors Chad Henninger and Julian Sanchez, who replaced Eriksson and Russell at No. 3 doubles, also won their match with an 8-3 decision over PSU's Zach Lubek and Matt Erickson.

The Eagles quickly extended their lead to 3-0 when Sanchez and sophomore Fernando Mussolini dominated their opponents at No. 4 and No. 2 singles, respectively.

Sanchez was the first off the court, as he beat Lubek at No. 4, 6-1, 6-1. Mussolini followed after an assertive 6-2, 6-0 victory against Vanderschelden.

The next Eagle victory would clinch the match, but this one did not come as easily as the first two. At No. 1 singles, freshman Mario Navarro won his first set against PSU's Chris Rice, 6-4. But the second set was a fierce battle, and Rice seemed to gain momentum late after executing a few crafty volleys. Rice was up one game at 6-5, but Navarro held his serve in the final game to force a tiebreaker. The Barcelona, Spain, native maintained his composure and came up with a couple tough serves to win the tiebreaker, 8-6 and thus, clinch the match for EWU.

"Mario played great against a very talented player in Chris Rice," said Haworth. "With every match, Mario gets better and better at being patient. His decision-making on the court has improved tremendously this year, and that really came through today."

Junior Stefan Simikic also prevailed in a tiebreaker, as he beat Somach, 7-6 (7-5), 6-2, at No. 3 singles.  Junior Chad Henninger downed Mam at No. 6 singles, 6-3, 6-2, and Russell won his third-straight Big Sky singles match when  he beat Erickson at No. 5, 6-4, 7-6 (7-5).

"I was really pleased with our performance today in a high-pressure situation," said Haworth. "The guys played what was arguably their best tennis of the season. Now, we just cross our fingers that rest of the conference matches play out in our favor."

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