CHENEY, Wash. - For the second time in two days, the Eastern Washington University men's tennis team rallied from an imposing deficit with the season on the line to come out victorious, the result being the team's first-ever Big Sky Conference championship and berth in the NCAA Championship.
After incredibly rallying from a 3-0 deficit in a 4-3 win over Montana State in the semifinals on Saturday (April 26), the Eagles came back from 3-1 down against host and regular-season champion Sacramento State for an incredibly dramatic 4-3 victory on Sunday (April 27).
"The guys played to their full potential this weekend," interim head coach Darren Haworth said. "They really wanted to win for the school and for themselves. They worked extremely hard this year and believed in themselves. This win was a result of a lot of good chemistry and hard work throughout the year."
Nico Riego de Dios sealed the championship with a clutch 6-2, 2-6, 6-4 victory on court three.
The Eagles have now played six contests this year which has seen the score tied 3-3 and the team result come down to one singles match. Eastern Washington is now 5-1 in those contests with the only setback coming in the team's regular-season meeting with Sacramento State on March 28.
Eastern Washington (18-6) took early control of the contest by winning at Nos. 1 and 3 doubles to earn the doubles point (Pannhara Mam and Kyle Schraeder, as well as Art Karas and Nico Riego de Dios, were victorious in those respective matches).
But Sacramento State (15-8) stormed back by claiming the first three singles matches to finish, each in comfortable fashion. These three matches saw the Hornet players not allow more than four total games apiece to come to the brink of winning the championship with a 3-1 lead.
At that point, Daniel Pez, the hero in three of those six 3-3 matches, completed a straight-sets 7-5, 6-2 victory at court six to bring EWU to within one at 3-2.
Kenneth Norling then dug deep to rally from a first-set loss for a 2-6, 6-4, 6-3 victory on the fourth court to tie the score, 3-3, and set the stage for Riego de Dios' dramatics.
The Eagles have now won eight straight matches, one shy of its school-record streak of nine set from Feb. 2-March 8 of this year (in the NCAA Division I era).
After losing its first 40 postseason matches since joining the Division I ranks in 1984, the Eagles have gone 4-1 in playoff contests, winning twice last year to advance to the championship match and claiming the title this year.
The men's tennis squad also became the first Eagle athletics team to win a Big Sky title since the football team did so in the fall of 2005.
The 64-team NCAA Championship field will be announced at 11 a.m. on Tuesday (April 29) on ESPNews. First and second round matches will take place from either May 9-10 or 10-11 at campus sites to be determined. The teams that prevail there will advance to the Round of 16 on May 16 in Tulsa, Okla. The quarterfinals, semifinals and national championship match will also take place in Tulsa, from May 18-20, respectively.
Eastern Washington vs Sacramento State
Apr 27, 2008 at Gold River, Calif.
(Gold River Racquet Club)
Eastern Washington 4, Sacramento State 3
1. Anton Stryhas (SAC) def. Kyle Schraeder (EWU) 6-2, 6-0
2. Kiryl Harbatsiuk (SAC) def. Pannhara Mam (EWU) 6-3, 6-1
3. Nico Riego de Dios (EWU) def. Artur Klimenka (SAC) 6-2, 2-6, 6-4
4. Kenneth Norling (EWU) def. Holden Ching (SAC) 2-6, 6-4, 6-3
5. Sven-David Rueff (SAC) def. Art Karas (EWU) 6-1, 6-3
6. Daniel Pez (EWU) def. Ronan Conlon (SAC) 7-5, 6-2
1. Pannhara Mam/Kyle Schraeder (EWU) def. Kiryl Harbatsiuk/Anton Stryhas (SAC) 8-5
2. Artur Klimenka/Sven-David Rueff (SAC) vs. Jonathan Davis/Patrick Millican (EWU) 6-5, unfinished
3. Art Karas/Nico Riego de Dios (EWU) def. Holden Ching/Ronan Conlon (SAC) 8-3
Eastern Washington 18-6
Sacramento State 15-8
Order of finish: Doubles (1,3); Singles (1,5,2,6,4,3)