Eagles Drop 4-3 Heartbreaker to Big Sky Regular-Season Champs, Sac State

Eriksson and Russell win fifth-straight doubles match; Mussolini earns 10th win in singles in Eastern's narrow loss to Hornets

The Eastern Washington University men's tennis team played some of its best tennis of the season on Friday afternoon at the Jim Thorpe Fieldhouse in Cheney, Wash., but it was not quite enough to take down the Hornets of Sacramento State, as Eastern fell 4-3 in the Big Sky Conference dual match.

"This was a pretty tough loss, but I am very proud of our efforts," said EWU head coach Darren Haworth. "The guys continue to improve on all aspects of their game with every outing. We definitely had some strong performances today, especially in singles."

With the win on Friday, Sac State clinched its sixth-consecutive Big Sky regular-season title. The Hornets extended their flawless league record to 7-0, while improving to 11-9 on the season. The Eagles dropped to 9-12 overall and 3-3 in league play.

EWU is only one of two teams in the conference to have won four matches (for three points) against Sac State. Portland State also lost a 4-3 decision on Feb. 10, but Sac State was without its top doubles team and regular No. 3 singles player at the time.

The Eagles enjoyed some early momentum on Friday, after sophomore Chris Eriksson and freshman James Russell dominated at No. 3 doubles. The Eagle duo defeated Sac State's Josh Lrentzen and Daniel Diaz, 8-1 to earn its fifth-straight win and 11th overall in the 2011 season. Eriksson and Russell are now one of just eight doubles teams in Eastern history to win at least 11 matches in a single season.

Junior Stefan Simikic and sophomore Kyle Koetje dropped their match at No.1 doubles to Kiryl Harbatsiuk and Marko Starcevic, 8-4. Eastern's No. 2 pair of juniors Chad Henninger and Julian Sanchez suffered its first loss of the conference season when it fell to Sac State's Jason Smith and Javier Millan, 8-6.

Although Eastern fell just short of capturing the coveted doubles point, EWU sophomore Fernando Mussolini quickly evened the score when he downed Smith at No. 2 singles, 6-3, 6-0. The win was Mussolini's 10th of the season. The sophomore from Sao Paulo, Brazil has now earned double-digit singles victories in back-to-back seasons.

Sanchez dropped his match at No. 4 singles, 6-4, 6-2, and freshman Mario Navarro was bested by Harbatsuik at No. 1, 6-2, 7-5. Habatsuik is ranked among the top 30 players in the nation, and has lost only two matches all season against No. 24 Daniel Nguyen of USC and No. 10 Bradley Klahn of Stanford. Navarro nearly won his second set after earning a 5-4 edge, but Habatsuik came on strong to win three games in a row to take the match in two.

Now down 3-1, Eastern was facing a must-win situation for the remaining three matches. Freshman James Russell won the first conference dual of his career with 6-1, 6-4 victory over Diaz at No. 6 singles, and Henninger came up with an impressive performance at No. 5, defeating Lorentzen, 6-1, 7-6 (7-4). But the Hornets were able to clinch the match when Starcevic edged Simikic in a nail-biting match at No. 3 singles, 7-6 (7-4), 7-5.

"Losing such a close match is really hard," said Haworth. "But we played extremely well today against the toughest team in the conference. This should give us some major momentum heading into the final two matches of the season."

Eastern will play at Northern Arizona on April 9 before returning to Cheney for the final match of the regular season against Portland State on April 15.

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