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Men’s Tennis: Irish fall to South Florida in semifinals, finish third

Peter Steiner | Monday, April 23, 2012

Entering the Big East championships, the No. 28 Irish had not lost since they fell to South Florida in Tampa, Fla., on March 17.

After defeating No. 8 seed Villanova Friday to advance to the semifinals, the Bulls met the Irish (20-8) yet again. But after a nearly five-hour long affair, the Irish were unable to overcome South Florida, losing a narrow 4-3 match.

The Irish recovered from the heartbreaking loss Sunday, when they defeated St. John’s, 4-1, to claim third place at the championships.

In their first match of the tournament, the Irish affirmed their No. 1 seed by taking every single set from the Wildcats (10-12) en route to a 5-0 victory. Senior Niall Fitzgerald clinched both the doubles point with senior Casey Watt as well as the overall match – earning a 6-1, 6-2 victory over freshman Mike Rosengren at No. 5 singles.

“I just think we are a lot stronger team and it wasn’t a difficult match,” Irish coach Bobby Bayliss said. “We were really weren’t pressed and it went as expected.”

With the No. 1 seed and seven-match winning streak heading into Saturday, the Irish had their sights set on a championship. But Notre Dame ran into a motivated South Florida squad playing behind a large home crowd. This clash resulted in a thrilling match from both sides, with the Irish falling just short of the win.

“We knew they would be a difficult opponent,” Bayliss said. “It was a nearly five-hour match and it was one of the longest and probably one of the most exciting matches I’ve ever been a part of. It was a great atmosphere. They had a large, very vocal crowd and the nets swung back and forth.”

The Irish jumped out to an early lead by taking the doubles point with victories at No. 2 and No. 3 doubles. South Florida and Notre Dame then traded points in singles.

“At one point, we got up 3-2 in the match, so overall we had to win one of two [matches],” Bayliss said. “But both of the two went into third-set tiebreakers and we just happened to lose them both. We had opportunities at No. 4 singles. We served for the match twice in the second set and lost the tiebreaker in the third set.

“At No. 6 singles, we were up a service break twice in the third set and couldn’t quite hold on and lost two straight tiebreakers.”

Bayliss said some players had difficulty adjusting to the different climate and experienced cramping.

“[Sophomore Billy Pecor] had to spend an hour in the training room afterwards with extensive cramping,” Bayliss said. “[Junior Blas Moros] was cramping and [senior Niall Fitzgerald] was cramping. So we had three guys cramping at the end of the match from exhaustion.

“They played a very inspired match. We were not great, but we weren’t bad. We fought pretty hard and we just didn’t quite get it.”

After a physically and mentally draining loss on Saturday, the Irish met St. John’s to decide third place. With bad weather looming in the Tampa area, the Irish played the singles matches first in attempt to shorten the match. Taking four of the five singles matches that finished, Notre Dame rebounded from Saturday’s loss and secured the third place finish in the Big East championships.

“We actually came out great and we played extremely well [against St. John’s],” Bayliss said. “It was one of the better matches we’ve played.”

With the conclusion of the Big East championships, the Irish will prepare for the NCAA tournament, which will begin May 11.

 

Contact Peter Steiner at psteiner@nd.edu