April 26, 2008

Rally from 3-0 Down Propels Eagles into Championship Match

April 26, 2008

The last time the Eastern Washington University men's tennis team and the Montana State Bobcats faced off, the Eagles rallied from a 3-0 deficit in Bozeman, Mont., for a dramatic 4-3 victory. That win in EWU's first Big Sky Conference match of the season helped propel Eastern Washington to a school-record 7-1 Big Sky campaign.

The Eagles hope a repeat of that feat in the Big Sky semifinals on Saturday afternoon (April 26) in Gold River, Calif., will ignite Eastern Washington to its first-ever Big Sky title and berth in the NCAA Tournament.

"It was an amazing team effort today," interim head coach Darren Haworth said. "The guys showed a lot of heart today to come out with the win."

Today's contest, like the regular-season match on Feb. 22, came down to the third set in the final singles match to finish up play, although today's deciding contest literally could not have been any closer. Art Karas, playing on court five, rallied for a 6-7, 7-6, 7-6 victory, a rare contest in which every single set was decided by a tiebreaker.

"Art was cramping pretty bad, but he battled through that to win the match," Haworth said. "He showed more heart than just about anyone I have ever seen in my life."

Montana State, the fourth seed, took early control of the contest by taking 2-of-3 doubles contests (Patrick Millican and Jonathan Davis were victorious on court two), along with the initial two singles matches to finish.

Then the momentum changed course.

Nico Riego De Dios was the one to put a stop to the momentum, as he earned a convincing 6-2, 6-4 win on the third court to cut Eastern's deficit to 3-1. Shortly thereafter, Pannhara Mam started moving that momentum into Eastern's direction by making it 3-2 with a 6-4, 6-1 victory on court two.

Then, Daniel Pez, the hero many times previously this season (he has broken a 3-3 tie with a singles win three times this season), served a pivotal role today, as he outlasted his opponent on court six by cruising in the third set for a 7-5, 3-6, 6-1 victory. Pez moved his 2008 mark to an incredible 14-1 (.933 winning percentage) with his clutch win.

That set the stage for Karas' dramatics. The junior claimed his 44th career win today, which is a school record, while he extended his record for victories in a season with his 18th of 2008 against only five defeats.

The Eagles have now won seven straight, its second-longest winning streak of the season (EWU claimed nine consecutive decisions from Feb. 2-March 8), and moved to 17-6, extending its school record for wins in the NCAA Division I era, which began in 1984.

Incredibly, after losing its first 40 postseason matches since joining the Division I ranks, the Eagles have gone 3-1 in playoff contests, winning twice last year to advance to the championship match and claiming its victory over MSU today.

The Eagles, the second seed, will take on regular-season champion Sacramento State (15-7) in the championship match at 2 p.m. on Sunday (April 27) in Gold River, Calif. The Hornets held off sixth-seeded Montana 4-3 after going up 3-0.

Although Sacramento State defeated Eastern Washington 4-0 in last year's title tilt, the Eagles held close with the Hornets in the team's 2008 meeting, falling by a tight 4-3 score in California's capital city. That contest was so close that it was not decided until the final singles match finished 7-5 in the third set.

The winner earns the league's automatic berth into the NCAA Tournament.

Montana State vs Eastern Washington
4/26/2008 at Gold River, Calif.
(Gold River Racquet Club)
Eastern Washington 4, Montana State 3

Singles competition
1. Kyle McDonald (MSU) def. Kyle Schraeder (EWU) 6-3, 6-1
2. Pannhara Mam (EWU) def. Jakub Dybala (MSU) 6-4, 6-1
3. Nico Riego De Dios (EWU) def. Pawel Turzanski (MSU) 6-2, 6-4
4. Fletcher Keyes (MSU) def. Kenneth Norling (EWU) 6-2, 6-0
5. Art Karas (EWU) def. Justin Hauck (MSU) 6-7, 7-6, 7-6
6. Daniel Pez (EWU) def. Esteban Ferrero (MSU) 7-5, 3-6, 6-1

Doubles competition
1. Kyle McDonald/Jakub Dybala (MSU) def. Pannhara Mam/Kyle Schraeder (EWU) 8-6
2. Patrick Millican/Jonathan Davis (EWU) def. Fletcher Keyes/Pawel Turzanski (MSU) 8-6
3. David Kovas/Justin Hauck (MSU) def. Art Karas/Nico Riego de Dios (EWU) 8-5

Match Notes:
Montana State 13-12
Eastern Washington 17-6
Order of finish: Doubles (1,2,3); Singles (4,1,3,2,6,5)
2008 Big Sky Championship
No. 1 Semifinal

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