ANOTHER SWEET 16: #13 Bears Advance With 4-2 Win Over #25 TulsaMay 12, 2013
By Jerry Hill
Baylor Bear Insider
Facing an experienced fourth-year junior that had already made two trips to the Round of 16 in the NCAA Championships, Baylor freshman Julian Lenz seemed to be in over his head.
But showing the cool resolve of a seasoned veteran, Lenz staved off two break points at 4-4 in the third set and then broke Clifford Marsland's serve in the next game to clinch the 13th-ranked Bears' 4-2 win and their own trip to the Sweet 16 with a hard-fought 6-2, 3-6, 6-4 victory on Court 2.
Keeping alive a pair of impressive streaks in Saturday night's marathon match at the Hurd Tennis Center, Baylor (22-5) earned its 12th consecutive trip to the NCAA Championships' final site and improved to 20-0 in NCAA postseason matches at home.
"Their lineup was such that their strongest position was (No. 2 singles)," said Baylor head coach Matt Knoll. "That's what's great about sitting down and looking at what's going to happen, if there's one point we're not going to get, it is 2; and we got that point. You just never know. The thing that we're fortunate about right now is we're competitive at every spot. That's the sign of a good team. We don't need any one guy to win every time. We've got a chance to win everywhere."
This one, though, was in doubt until the very end.
The tide seemed to be turning in 25th-ranked Tulsa's favor when the Golden Hurricane's Grant Ive rallied to split sets with Mate Zsiga at No. 3 and held serve to take a 1-0 lead in the third.
At 4-4 and 15-40 in the third set, Lenz was five points from defeat and swinging the momentum of the match over to Tulsa. But he reeled off four unanswered points to hold serve and then overcame a 30-0 deficit on Marsland's serve in the next game, clinching it when the Tulsa player overcooked an overhead just beyond the baseline.
"That's a moment that you can't really describe," said Lenz, who was mobbed by his teammates after clinching the match. "I felt a lot of pressure from his side on my service games, because he was returning really early. And then I was like, 'OK, just hit the ball . . . focus on your serve, hit the first serve and try to take one corner and just focus on that.' And it worked out, obviously. I got the momentum from the whole crowd on my side. It gave me that last boost to get the break at 5-4, and now we're all really happy."
Things didn't start well for the Bears, who dropped the doubles point for just the sixth time this season after blowing leads at the Nos. 1 and 2 spots.
At No. 2, Ive and Tristan Jackson overcame an early 4-1 deficit to win seven of the next nine games and defeat Patrick Pradella and Roberto Maytin, 8-6. In a reversal of that result, Lenz and Tony Lupieri rallied from a 4-1 deficit to beat the Golden Hurricane's Japie De Klerk and Carlos Baustista, 8-5, at No. 3, leaving the opening point to be decided at No. 1.
The 63rd-ranked duo of Zsiga and Diego Galeano held a 6-4 lead at No. 1, but Tulsa's Marsland and Alejandro Espejo got the break they needed and then clinched the opening point, 9-8, by dominating the tiebreaker, 7-3.
"I was a little disappointed that we were up a break at both 1 and 2 doubles and didn't get either one of them," Knoll said. "That made it a longer day, for sure."
Ultimately, that turned a potential 2 1/2 - or 3-hour match into nearly four hours on the courts.
Swinging the momentum, Baylor won five of the six first sets in singles, the only loss coming in a tiebreaker at No. 1.
"We came out after losing the doubles point, and we were tremendous," Knoll said. "Some of the sets weren't that competitive. I thought particularly the guys down at the bottom really came out rocking and rolling. That really changed the momentum of the match."
Sophomore Marko Krickovic, who played only two conference matches and had been out of the lineup since April 21, came within a point of closing out a double-bagel victory on Friday against Prairie View. And then, replacing Maytin in the lineup, he cruised to a 6-2, 6-0 win over Jackson at No. 6.
"I've got to give him a ton of credit," Knoll said of Krickovic, who improved to 12- 6 in dual-match play and 2-1 at No. 6. "He hasn't played a lot. (Jackson is) a guy that beat us when we played them in February. So, for him to come out and lose two games against that guy was pretty impressive."
Krickovic said it was "never really about my tennis."
"I've been playing good enough the whole season," he said. "I just didn't stay in there mentally. I had some problems that have been out there for a while, and I think I just needed that time off to really work on that. You can see that, obviously, something changed from the beginning of the season till now."
Completing the domination at the bottom of the lineup, Galeano rolled to a 6-0, 6-3 win over Baustista at No. 5, and Lupieri pushed Baylor's lead to 3-1 with a straight-set win over Espejo at No. 4, 6-3, 6-3.
"If I win 7-6, 7-6, it's the same thing; I don't really care," Krickovic said. "I'm just happy that I brought my game from practice to the match, finally, because I've been practicing amazing and just couldn't bring it to the matches."
At No. 1, De Klerk overcame code violations that cost him a penalty and a game, rallying from a 3-1 deficit in the second set to knock off the 24th-ranked Pradella, 7-6(5), 6-4, to pull the Golden Hurricane (16-8) back within 3-2.
"I think the hangover of losing the first set carried over into the second," Knoll said. "It wasn't the most complete match, but Japie had something to do with that."
With it coming down to the final two matches, Zsiga seemed like the Bears' best bet, especially when Lenz faced a pair of break points in the third. But the 55tth-ranked freshman came through with one of his biggest wins of the year in improving to 27-9 overall and 16-5 in dual matches.
"I really had some trouble in the beginning of the season," he said. "I was just trying to focus on improving and getting one day better. And I think I'm at the top level of my performance right now."
"I thought it was the best I've seen him play," Knoll said of Lenz. "He's a heck of a competitor. I was really proud of him today. I thought he did a great job."
Baylor snapped a two-match losing streak to Tulsa and improved to 45-14 all-time in NCAA play and 14-0 in second-round matches.
Making its 14th overall appearance at the NCAA final site and 12th in a row, Baylor will face fourth-ranked and four-time defending national champion USC (25-4) at 4 p.m. Thursday at the Atkins Tennis Center in Urbana, Ill.
"I think we have a great team this year. We have nine guys out there that can win matches," Krickovic said. "It's a great opportunity for us to get out there and show what we have. I think we can cause some trouble there."
Here is a link to the complete results from Saturday's Baylor-Tulsa men's tennis match.
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