April 21, 2012

Eagles Battle in Big Sky Semis, but Lose Out to No. 2 Sacramento State, 4-0

Eastern ends 2012 season at 12-9 overall, while seniors Chad Henninger and Julian Sanchez combine for 23 singles wins in final campaign

Although the Eastern Washington University men's tennis team was excited to be back in the Big Sky Conference tournament for the first time in three years, the Eagles had their sights set on a title. Unfortunately, three-time defending champion Sacramento State stood in their way. The No. 2-seeded Hornets defeated No. 3 Eastern, 4-0, on Saturday (April 21) at the Gold River Racquet Club in Sacramento, Calif.

The Eagles finish the 2012 season at 12-9 overall, and 6-2 in Big Sky Conference action. Sacramento State will play for their 10th tournament title in the last 15 years tomorrow in the championship match against No. 1 Montana.

"I definitely have to credit Sac State," said EWU head coach Darren Haworth. "We competed hard today, but they were the better team."

The match started with a real dog fight in doubles, as the Hornets won at No. 1, 8-3 and the Eagles took the match at No. 2 by a score of 8-5.

At No. 3 doubles, seniors Chad Henninger and Julian Sanchez had a solid match going against Sac State's Roy Brandys and Alizksandr Malko. But with the score tied at 5-5, the Hornets began to pull away.

"We just barely lost the doubles point," said Haworth. "There were some great points played until the very end. Our guys served well and returned well, but Sac State came up with some great shots when they needed them. I was quite impressed with the confidence they showed against us."

Henninger and Sanchez lost the match, 8-6, giving the Hornets the 1-0 advantage heading into singles.

Sophomore James Russell was the first to finish, as he dropped his match at No. 2 singles, 6-2, 6-4.

At No. 1, sophomore Ilija Cuic was down 6-4, 5-1 to Malko before Cuic was forced to retire due to heat exhaustion. Temperatures in Sacramento reached the 90s during Eastern's mid-afternoon match.

The Hornets then clinched it with a 7-5, 6-2 victory at No. 4. With the match decided, play at Nos. 3, 5 and 6 were abandoned.

Henninger's loss at No. 4 was just the sixth of the season for the senior from Eugene, Ore. Henninger celebrated the most successful season in his four-year career with the Eagles, as he finished the 2012 campaign at 13-6 overall and 6-2 in league play. He also earned nine doubles wins with partner Sanchez.

Both Henninger and Sanchez appear in the EWU record book for career singles and doubles wins. As a team, the duo is third all-time with 19 doubles wins, and individually, they are tied for fourth for career singles wins with 40 apiece.

Eastern has now made six postseason appearances in the last 10 years. The Eagles won the Big Sky tournament title in 2008 with a 4-3 upset of Sac State, but the Hornets have ousted EWU in its two most recent appearances in 2009 and 2012.

"This was a great experience for our guys, and I'm glad we had the opportunity to play in this environment again," said Haworth. "We made the most of it and gave it our best shot today, but just came up a little short."

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