Owls Wear Down Blue Raiders to Reach C-USA Semis
Face Tulsa at noon Saturday
April 18, 2014
Adam Gustafsson shook off a first set loss and held off five match points in the second before blitzing through a tiebreak and a third set to provide the clinching point for Rice in a 4-1 win over Middle Tennessee in the quarterfinals of the Conference USA Men's Tennis Championship at the Case Tennis Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Rice (10-12) moves on to face top-seeded and 42nd ranked Tulsa on Saturday at noon.
"After a great doubles point, we had a few slow starts in singles, but I thought we really wore them down mentally and that showed in the later sets," Rice head coach Efe Ustundag said. "If you look at the scores in the matches, there were battles early, but our guys really took charge down the stretch."
With a shuffled lineup due to injuries to Tommy Bennett and Lief Berger, the Owls stormed to an early lead thanks to a dominant set of doubles.
"We really played well right away in doubles," Ustundag said. "Zach (Yablon) and Gustavo (Gonzalez) came out on fire to win 8-2 and Srikar (Alla) and David (Warren) were right behind them."
Armed with a 1-0 lead, the Owls opened singles play in mixed fashion.
"We came out slow on a few spots, but after Gustavo and David won their first sets, I was thinking we had three points, but I wasn't sure where the fourth one would come from," Ustundag noted. "But Max came through with a win his first set tiebreak, then Adam fought off all those match points to get to a tiebreaker and at the same time Srikar was winning his second set 7-5. You could really feel us getting stronger and stronger as the match went along."
That momentum showcased itself in the Owls three singles wins. Warren followed a 7-5 first set win with a 6-1 second set for the Owls' second point, Andrews answered a 7-6 (6) tiebreak win with a 6-2 final set and Gustafsson rebounded from a 6-4 first set loss to force a tiebreaker by fighting off five match points when trailing 5-4 in the second. He captured the tiebreak 7-1 and then raced to the clinch point with a 6-1 verdict in the third set.
With the win the Owls earned the right to face off against a familiar rival for one last time as conference foes. The two schools met for the C-USA title in each of Rice's first six years in Conference USA, with the Golden Hurricane winning five of the six meetings. However they have not met in tourney play since Tulsa re-captured the title from Rice in 2011 at the Case Tennis Center.
"This is it for us, we have to keep winning to keep the season going," Ustundag said. "Our guys know it will take a great effort tomorrow, but they also are feeling pretty good about how they are playing. We handled the challenges today and showed that they have learned and grown during this season. I'm looking forward to seeing what happens next."