April 13, 2012

Eagles Knock Off Montana State, 5-2

Eastern takes one step closer to a regular-season title with impressive road win over Bobcats

The Eastern Washington University men's tennis team is now just one win away from at least tying for the 2012 Big Sky regular-season title.

The Eagles won their third-straight conference dual on Friday (April 13) in Bozeman, Mont., taking down Montana State, 5-2, in a poignant match at the Bobcat Outdoor Courts.

Eastern (12-4, 6-1 Big Sky), now tied for second in the conference standings, will play current league-leader Montana (13-4, 6-0) on Saturday (April 14) in Missoula. If Eastern can beat the Grizzlies, it will earn at least a share of the 2012 Big Sky regular-season title, which would be the first-ever in Eastern Washington men's tennis history.

Montana and Sac State are also in the running for the crown. The Hornets play Idaho State on Saturday, while Montana wraps up against MSU on Sunday. The Eagles, Grizzlies and Hornets, along with Weber State, have all clinched bids to the 2012 Big Sky tennis championship, held April 21-22 in Sacramento, but seeding for the event is obviously still up in the air.

There was quite a bit of emotion surrounding Friday's match in Bozeman, as it was the final home outing for Montana State's long-time head coach Mike Phillips, who will leave MSU after this season to coach and teach in the private sector in Colorado. Phillips was at MSU for 12 seasons, becoming the most successful coach in Bobcat history.

"Montana State was certainly fired up," said EWU head coach Darren Haworth. "They came out and competed hard. They played with a lot of confidence and really went after their shots. You could tell they wanted the win for Mike."

But unfortunately for the Bobcats, a thriving Eastern Washington team stood in their way. The Eagles actually conceded the doubles point after two narrow losses at No. 1 and 2. But in singles, the Eags had the edge.

Seniors Julian Sanchez and Chad Henninger, who have a combined 23 singles victories this season, were the first two to finish, as both won in straight sets at No. 5 and 4, respectively.

Sanchez topped Prithiv Sivaubramaniam, 7-5, 6-3, while Henninger improved his overall record to 13-4 when he downed Lander Jewett, 6-1, 7-5.

Sophomore Ilija Cuic also won in straight sets, as he bested MSU's Diego Campos at No. 2, 6-4, 6-4.

Junior Kyle Koetje ended up clinching the match for EWU with a dramatic win at No. 6 singles. After taking the first set, 6-4, Koetje was put to the test in the second, and ended up losing it, 6-1. In the decisive third, the junior from Arlington, Wash., quickly found himself in a quite a big hole. Down 5-1 to Montana State's Javier Martin-Morillas, Koetje charged back to win six games in a row to take set and the match with a 7-5 decision.

Sophomore James Russell also won a marathon match at No. 1, as he outlasted Markus Schleuter in three very competitive sets. Russell came out with a 6-3, 4-6, 7-6 (7-4) victory.

"It was a tough day, and we had to battle," said Haworth. "The guys really had to pull together as a team and motivate one another for this win."

The Eagles will try for their fourth-straight on Saturday against the Grizzlies, who are undefeated in conference. First serve is scheduled for 11 a.m. Pacific time.

"You only get so many chances to play for a conference title," said Haworth. "We are up to the task. I do expect there will be quite a few fans in Missoula and there will be a lot of emotion on the courts. If we can just stay focused on each match and not let ourselves get distracted, I like our chances."

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