Eagles Fall in Heartbreaking Fashion to Big Sky Favorite Sac State

Despite disappointing 4-3 loss for the team, seniors Chad Henninger and Julian Sanchez record wins in both doubles and singles to remain perfect in league play

For the second year in a row, the Eastern Washington University men's tennis team was on the brink of an inspiring upset against Big Sky perennial power, Sacramento State. But a devastating shift in momentum allowed the Hornets to pull away with a 4-3 victory over EWU on Tuesday (March 27) at the Spare Time Indoor Tennis Center in Sacramento, Calif.

Eastern, now 9-7 on the year and 3-1 in Big Sky play, also dropped a 4-3 decision to Sac State last year in the showdown in Cheney.

Going into the match Tuesday, the Eagles and Hornets were tied for the top spot in the Big Sky Conference standings. But with the win, Sac State now sits alone in first place. The Hornets have won 23-consecutive conference matches.

"As I told the guys, we really have nothing to hang our heads about," said EWU head coach Darren Haworth. "They competed really well against a strong team. As a whole, we just need to do a better job of executing when we have the chances."

After battling some nerves early on, EWU found its groove and was able to capture the doubles point with two big wins at No. 2 and 3. As partners, seniors Chad Henninger and Julian Sanchez improved their undefeated Big Sky record to 4-0 when they downed Sac State's Sean Kolar and Tom Miller at No. 2, 8-4.

"Chad and Julian are playing really tough," said Haworth. "They focus only on what is happening on their court and just refuse to lose, which really sets a great example for the rest of the team."

Sophomores Mario Navarro and Ilija Cuic erased a 0-5 deficit at No. 3 to outlast Aliaksandr Malko and Roy Brandys, 9-7, which gave the Eagles the advantage heading into singles.

But the Hornets earned two quick victories at No. 1 and 3, making it 2-1 in favor of the home team. Navarro was the first to finish, as he lost to Marek Marksoo at No. 3, 6-2, 6-1.

Although Cuic had just beat him in doubles, the sophomore from Zagreb, Croatia did not have the same success against Malko in singles, as he lost the match at No. 1, 6-2, 6-4.

After a strong performance in doubles, Sanchez stepped up once again for an important victory at No. 5. He topped Brandys in straight sets, 6-3, 6-2.

"In this conference, when you go play on different courts that are at different elevations, you have to be able to make adjustments," said Haworth. "Our seniors have done a great job of that so far this season."

Sacramento State was able to make it 3-2 when Jonathan Hultkrantz bested junior Kyle Koetje at No. 6, 6-3, 6-2.

It would come down to Henninger at No. 4 and sophomore James Russell at No. 2. Henninger edged Kolar in an exciting three setter, as he battled back after dropping the first set to win it, 4-6, 7-6, 6-2. But before that match was over, Sac State's Javier Millan provided the match-clinching win over Russell.

Russell had a 5-0 lead on Millan in the first set, but a sudden shift in momentum allowed Millan to rally and force a tiebreaker, which he won 8-6. Russell also had a 4-3 lead in the second set before Millan won three-straight games to win the match.

The Eagles will return to Cheney for a couple of crucial Big Sky duals next weekend against Weber State and Northern Arizona. The Eagles face WSU (7-8, 3-1 Big Sky) on Friday (April 6) before taking on NAU (4-11, 1-5) on Sunday (April 8).

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