Engaging in one of the tightest finals in Big West Men’s Tennis Championship history, third-seeded UC Santa Barbara pulled out a dramatic 4-3 victory over No. 1 seed UC Irvine to conclude action at Indian Wells Tennis Garden Sunday.
The Gauchos and Anteaters went the distance in doubles, and had four singles matches go to three sets as UCI nearly chewed up a 3-0 deficit.
UCSB extended its Big West record with the program’s ninth title, and eighth under head coach Marty Davis. The Gauchos have won the title six times in 12 years at Indian Wells. With the victory, the Gauchos earn the conference’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
The Anteaters (20-13) finish an outstanding season with the most wins in Big West history since round-robin play began in 2006.
UCSB won the doubles point thanks to victories at No. 1 and No. 2. Nathan Eshmade and Erik Johnsson took a 6-2 victory at No. 1 over Jonathan Poon and Justin Agbayani, but the Anteaters responded at No. 3 as Sebastian Heim and Caryl Hernandez dropped Morgan Mays and Andrew Riminton. The Gauchos leaned on seniors Tobias Galskov and Ziad Sultan to bring the point home, and the duo didn’t disappoint, as they squeezed past Tyler Pham and Jonathan Hammel, 6-4, at No. 2.
The Gauchos went up 2-0 when Johnsson outlasted Hammel in three sets at No. 5. Johnsson was blanked, 6-0, in the first set, but rallied back with 6-2 and 6-3 victories to win the match. Cody Rakela knocked off Shuhei Shibahara, 7-6 (4), 6-4 to win at the No. 4 draw and increase the Gaucho lead to 3-0.
However, UCI stayed tough and began to climb back into the match. Heim earned a 6-4, 6-2 victory against Galskov to earn UCI’s first point, and Nico Mertens won the first of three straight three-set contests to finish the contest. Mertens was a 6-3, 4-6, 6-2 winner over Mays at No. 3.
Rafa Davidian evened the score at No. 6 with his 6-4, 3-6, 7-6 (3) victory over Teague Hamilton.
That brought everyone’s attention to court No. 2 where Pham and Eshmade were locked into a back-and-forth battle. Pham won a tight first set in a tiebreaker, but Eshmade overcame a second set deficit and rolled in the third to earn a 6-7 (5), 6-4, 6-3 triumph.
BIG WEST TENNIS CHAMPIONSHIPS
INDIAN WELLS TENNIS GARDEN
(3) UC SANTA BARBARA 4, (1) UC IRVINE 3