URBANA, Ill. - The 13th-ranked Baylor men's tennis team gave four-time defending NCAA champion USC all it could handle, but the Bears eventually fell 4-1 in the third round of the NCAA Championships on Thursday at the Khan Outdoor Tennis Complex.
"We thought it was going to be a close match and it played out as expected," head coach Matt Knoll said. "We felt like we had a chance, if we executed. It hurts to lose, because we came here to win, but I am proud of my guys. I thought they got better every day. It is a really special group and we are going to learn from this."
The loss ends Baylor's 2013 season with a 22-6 mark and just one win shy of its 11th trip to the NCAA quarterfinals.
Playing in the Round of 16 for a 12th-consecutive season, BU started fast by claiming the doubles point for the 22nd time this year.
However, fourth-ranked USC (26-4) seized the early momentum as the 47th-ranked tandem of Roberto Quiroz and Emilio Gomez got past Roberto Maytin and Patrick Pradella, 8-5 on court 2. That match stayed on serve until the Trojans broke to go up 7-5. They would then hold serve to clinch the match.
Less than a minute later, BU took the match on court 3 with Tony Lupieri and Julian Lenz earning an 8-5 triumph over Max de Vroome and Eric Johnson. The Bear tandem recorded a break to go up 6-5 and then held, before getting another break to claim the match.
Baylor clinched the doubles point moments later. The 63rd-ranked pairing of Diego Galeano and Mate Zsiga upset No. 37 Ray Sarmiento and Yannick Hanfmann, 8-6. After a pair of early breaks in the match, Galeano and Zsiga got another one to take a 4-3 lead. From that point, the match stayed on serve to give BU the doubles victory.
Baylor opened singles play carrying over its momentum from the doubles victory. The Bears claimed three first sets and had an opportunity to get a fourth on court 1.
The 24th-ranked Pradella took a 4-2 lead in the opening set vs. No. 7 Gomez, but the Trojan would then win 10 of the next 12 games to tie the team contest at 1-1 with a 6-4, 6-2 victory. Pradella finishes the season with a 20-6 dual-match record.
Baylor's most consistent player all season the 109th-ranked Lupieri fell in an early 4-0 deficit, before dropping the first set 6-2 against No. 36 Quiroz on court 4. The BU sophomore seemed to have it turned around in the second, racing out to a 5-2 advantage. He was then broken in each of his next two service games and the second-set ended up in a tiebreaker. Quiroz claimed that tiebreaker 7-2 for the 6-2, 7-6(2) match victory to give USC a 2-1 lead.
Lupieri had an 11-match win streak snapped with the loss as he finishes the season with an 18-4 dual-match record.
Less than 10 minutes later the Trojans moved in front 3-1 as No. 90 Johnson downed Galeano at the No. 5 spot, 6-3, 7-5. The BU sophomore broke to go up 5-3 in the second-set, but was then unable to hold serve in each of his next two service games as Johnson won four straight games to take the contest.
The defeat was Galeano's first of the season when playing at the No. 5 position. He had previously been 14-0 in the spot. The loss also broke a five-match win streak and dropped his dual-match record to 19-4.
"The story of the match to me was that we served for the second set at both four and five and didn't get either one of those," Knoll said. "If we get those two we are still out here playing probably."
When USC took its 3-1 lead, the match on court 2 between No. 16 Sarmiento and No. 55 Lenz was headed to a third set, while at the No. 3 position the 84th-ranked Zsiga was tied 3-3 in a third-set with No. 45 Hanfmann and Marko Krickovic was down 5-3 in the second-set to Jonny Wang at the bottom of the lineup after having won the first set.
Zsiga would quickly go up 4-3, but ended being broken with the match tied at 5-5 to fall behind 6-5. The Trojan then held at love to close out the victory for USC with a 3-6, 6-1, 7-5 triumph.
Krickovic had battled back to take a 6-5 lead in the second set of his match, while Lenz held a 3-1 advantage in the third set when play was stopped.
The Trojans have now won three straight over the Bears to take a 5-4 lead in the all-time series.
Baylor's NCAA record now stands at 45-15 with a 10-4 mark in Round of 16 matches and a 16-13 record at the NCAA final site. BU lost a match after winning the opening point for only the third time in 2013.
"Our guys will feel sad for a couple of days, before coming back to make a difference in this tournament next year," Knoll said.
Pradella and Lenz will continue their seasons in the NCAA Singles Championships, which begin on Wednesday, May 22, in Urbana, Ill.
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