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Men’s Tennis: Irish rally to defeat SMU, 5-2

Kate Gales | Monday, April 10, 2006

Saturday was more of the same for No. 17 Notre Dame as it maintained its perfect home record with a 5-2 win over Southern Methodist University.

Notre Dame took five straight points falling behind 2-0, and improved to 14-7 with the victory.

“We expected a tough match,” Notre Dame coach Bobby Bayliss said. “It was a tough match. We were able to win the close matches and that was the difference.”

The team has struggled in doubles this season, and losing Ryan Keckley – the team’s best doubles player – to illness made it tougher.

“We’ve kind of done a full court press as far as our doubles lately, evaluating where we are, and we’re not worried as much about the combinations,” Bayliss said. “It’s about everyone developing better skills.”

Notre Dame junior Barry King and senior Eric Langenkamp won 8-4 at first doubles to put the Irish one match away from clinching the point. Irish freshman Brett Helgeson and sophomore Sheeva Parbhu lost 8-4 at No. 2 to even things out, and junior Stephen Bass and freshman Santiago Montoya lost 9-8 at third doubles to give SMU the opening point.

Bass and Montoya lost on a tiebreaker, which would be the only tiebreaker not to go in favor of the Irish.

“Winning the close sets [was crucial],” Bayliss said. “I think there were four tiebreakers, and we won all of them. The only one we didn’t win was in doubles.”

SMU extended its lead to 2-0 with a win at No. 6 singles, as Notre Dame senior Patrick Buchanan fell 6-4, 6-2 at No. 6 doubles.

But the Irish reeled off five straight victories to run away with the match.

King started the rally at No. 4, where he topped Southern Methodist senior Henrik Soderberg 6-3, 7-6 (7-5).

“Barry dictated – the key there was Barry had to get the first strike in,” Bayliss said. “He was able to do that. He did have a little hiccup when he served for the match at 5-4 and again at 6-5 but really played big in the last half of the tiebreaker.”

Langenkamp tied the score at two apiece with a 7-6 (7-3), 6-0 win at No. 5.

“He was down 2-1 and won the next six points to win the tiebreaker and did not lose a game in the second set,” Bayliss said. “I think he really broke Kuczer’s spirit the way he played aggressively in the tiebreaker where it mattered most.”

No. 16 Bass, playing in the No. 1 spot, topped Southern Methodist senior Peter Oredsson (ranked No. 33) 6-4, 6-4 for the only singles victory that didn’t go into a tiebreaker.

“Stephen handled Oredsson’s wide serve very well,” Bayliss said. “He countered awfully well when Oredsson tried to pressure him and applied enough pressure of his own to get the job done at one.”

Parbhu put the icing on the cake with a 7-6 (9-7), 7-6 win at No. 2 in the final match.

“Sheeva just kept getting himself out of trouble, he bent but he did not break, and he refused to give in when he was down,” Bayliss said. “His willingness to always meet any deficit seemed to be the difference in that match.”

The Irish have been able to come together and win close matches after a three-match skid.

“I think the schedule has toughened us and I’ve seen team go both ways on that,” Bayliss said. “You can take hits and after a while your confidence erodes and you’re not as good, but if you have the resolve to back it up you will really benefit from the level of competition you’re seeing, and I think that’s what we’ve done.”

The team dedicated its match to Keckley, and Notre Dame visited him at the health center after the win. He is expected to play on Thursday when the team takes on Louisville in its final match of the regular season.

“To win without Ryan the way we did, I think gives me a lot of optimism about the postseason,” Bayliss said.