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Men’s Tennis: Illini ace Irish with sweep

Kate Gales | Wednesday, February 8, 2006

Despite a heroic effort, the Irish were unable to stop the bleeding against the Illini Tuesday, dropping their third straight match to fall to 2-4.

No. 3 Illinois shut out No. 28 Notre Dame in a match that was decidedly one-sided.

“Illinois is for real,” Irish coach Bobby Bayliss said. “They could win it all this year. They are the best team we’ve faced.”

The doubles point was the closest part of the match. Andrew Roth and Eric Langenkamp took the match at No. 3 with an 8-3 victory. However, Brett Helgeson and Sheeva Parbhu followed with an 8-2 loss at second doubles.

With Ryan Keckley and Barry King still battling at No. 1, the Irish were unable to secure the initial point. King and Keckley fell 8-3 to give the point to the Illini despite a recent upset of North Carolina’s then-national-No. 1 doubles team.

“They have size and athleticism,” Bayliss said. “With the No. 1 doubles team, Barry King and Ryan Keckley were the shortest guys on the court … they looked like little kids. Illinois served huge and came at us with a lot of firepower.”

Things did not improve for the Irish. Keckley lost his first singles match of the dual-match season 6-3, 6-4 to put Illinois up 2-0, falling to 5-1 in the spring season.

King followed him off the courts at No. 3, losing 7-6 (7-5), 6-1.

“Barry played as good as set of tennis as he played all year, the first set, but [Illinois’ G.D.] Jones just picked up the pace in the second set and it was hard for Barry to play off,” Bayliss said.

Ruben Gonzales of Illinois clinched the match for the Illini with a 6-2, 6-3 win over Helgeson.

Stephen Bass, playing at No. 2, lost two tough sets against No. 27 Kevin Anderson – 6-4, 7-5. Eric Langenkamp followed with a 5-7, 6-4, 1-0 (10-0) loss at No. 6 despite winning the first set.

No. 14 Parbhu played in the first singles spot for the Irish, and was last off the court in the only match to play three full sets.

“Sheeva played very well,” Bayliss said. “It was three-all in the third set and he had two break points and [Ryler] DeHeart hit aces – 120 mph serves to the corners. That’s hard to overcome.”

This was the third loss in four days for the Irish – all coming to top-30 teams.

“I don’t know if we’re tired or not,” Bayliss said. “It’s been a rough four days … [but] I doubt that that was a big factor in the match. We were in most of the matches. I’m pleased with the effort and I’m pleased with the level of play at a number of positions.

“We’re not consistent through our lineup yet, and the difference was in the close matches Illinois was able to be aggressive in crunch time without making mistakes, and we weren’t. “

The loss was Notre Dame’s first 7-0 shutout since their last visit to the Atkins Tennis Center on Feb. 26, 2004. The Illini were No. 1 at the time.

The Irish will take two days off to recover from the grueling stretch before facing several Big Ten teams – including top-15 Ohio State.

“Today, we didn’t play badly, we just got beaten by a better team,” Bayliss said. “The biggest thing is when you are forced to meet the highest level possible in your sport – which is what we’ve done, and we’ve met it pretty darn well – you grow, but initially it’s a little painful.”

The Irish will play at home this weekend, taking on Purdue on Saturday and a Sunday doubleheader with Wisconsin and Bradley at the Eck Tennis Pavilion.