COLLEGE STATION, Texas – The fifth-seeded Texas A&M men’s tennis team handed fourth-seeded Texas Tech only its fifth loss of the season in a hotly-contested match played out in the quarterfinals of the 2008 Big 12 Conference Tennis Championships held Friday at the George P. Mitchell Tennis Center.
Sophomore Chris Chirico, a gritty right-hander from Philadelphia, led the Aggies (12-10) past the Red Raiders (19-5) for a spot in tomorrow’s semifinals against top-seeded Texas (19-4) at noon. TCU, Tulsa, Oklahoma State and Baylor were the only other opponents to keep Tech at bay from closing in on a 20-win season. Second-seeded BU (19-8) and third-seeded OSU (15-8) will play in the other men’s semifinal match at 9 a.m.
For the third time this year, Chirico matched up against Texas Tech’s Ilya Babinciuc, but this time the tables were turned in his favor. It wouldn’t be easy as Chirico battled back from a 1-4 deficit in the third set to gain a 5-4 advantage. Both players rallied and broke each other’s serve in the next three games. In the end, Chirico capitalized on his second match point as Babinciuc ran out of gas to seal the A&M victory, 4-6, 6-1, 7-5.
“Sometimes when the other guy has beaten you a couple of times, mentally it’s more of an uphill battle to be able to come back,” said Texas A&M head coach Steve Denton whose Aggies avenged a 4-3 regular-season loss to Tech in Lubbock on March 23. “I was really proud of his effort. He showed a lot of fight and it was a well-deserved win.”
The match took a little over four hours to decide with a 10-minute mini rain delay. It started off in dramatic fashion. The doubles point took close to an hour and a half with two tiebreakers. Senior Mike Beatty (Cincinnati, Ohio) and freshman Wil Spencer (Ponce de Leon, Fla.) won their fifth-straight doubles match with an 8-4 upset of 60th-ranked Michael Breler and Sinisa Markovic of Texas Tech at No. 2. The duo improved to an undefeated 5-0 in dual matches.
The Aggies, who won four-straight doubles points leading into the match, had their chances at both the No. 1 and No. 3 lines. Matt Bain (Georgetown, Texas) and Chirico lost 7-4 in the tiebreaker at No. 3, while No. 15-ranked Conor Pollock (San Antonio, Texas) and Austin Krajicek (Brandon, Fla.) were edged 9-7 by No. 14-ranked Christian Rojmar and Bojan Szumanski in the tiebreaker at No. 1.
“We won four doubles points in a row before this match against some really good teams,” Denton said. “We had to battle there in the doubles. We had a great chance, but it didn’t happen. You just have to tell your guys that they have to put their heads up and keep battling. It’s just one point and there is a lot of tennis to be played. We’ve come back and won four singles (matches) before this year, especially here at the Mitchell Tennis Center. It’s just a testament to their fight that we were able to somehow pull that match out today.”
Bain later evened the match at one-all after capturing a 6-4, 6-4 straight-set victory over Breler at No. 5 singles. Krajicek and freshman Kayvon Karimi (Dallas, Texas) came up big with a three-four finish at the No. 3 and No. 6 lines respectively, to put A&M up, 3-2, which led to the dramatic finale with Chirico and Spencer in the last two matches standing.
“It was a great day for us and obviously, we have to forget about this match and get ready for tomorrow,” Denton said. “We have a really tough battle ahead against Texas. It’s going to require the same type of effort or more for us to beat one of the teams that, in my opinion, has a chance to win the NCAA Championship. We really have nothing to lose. We will just go out, let it fly and see what happens tomorrow.”
A&M advances to the Big 12 semifinals for the eighth time in 12 all-time postseason championships. The Aggies remain an undefeated 4-0 against Texas Tech in postseason action. They are also 4-0 all-time versus the Longhorns in Big 12 Tournament play having last met in the 2002 semifinals where A&M won a 4-3 decision over UT.
(5) TEXAS A&M 4, (4) TEXAS TECH 3
2008 Big 12 Conference Tennis Championships
April 25, 2008
George P. Mitchell Tennis Center
at College Station, Texas
No. 1 (39) Bojan Szumanski (Texas Tech) def. (21) Conor Pollock (Texas A&M), 6-3, 6-2.
No. 2 (107) Sinisa Markovic (Texas Tech) def. Wil Spencer (Texas A&M), 7-6 (2), 7-6 (4).
No. 3 Austin Krajicek (Texas A&M) def. Lenoir Ramos (Texas Tech), 6-1, 7-5.
No. 4 Chris Chirico (Texas A&M) def. Ilya Babinciuc (Texas Tech), 4-6, 6-1, 7-5.
No. 5 Matt Bain (Texas A&M) def. Christian Rojmar (Texas Tech), 6-4, 6-1.
No. 6 Kayvon Karimi (Texas A&M) def. Michael Breler (Texas Tech), 6-4, 6-4.
No. 1 (14) Rojmar-Szumanski (Texas Tech) def. (15) Krajicek-Pollock (Texas A&M), 9-8 (7).
No. 2 Mike Beatty-Spencer (Texas A&M) def. (60) Breler-Markovic (Texas Tech), 8-4.
No. 3 Babinciuc-Ramos (Texas Tech) def. Bain-Chirico (Texas A&M), 9-8 (4).
ORDER OF FINISH
Doubles: 2, 3, 1
Singles: 5, 1, 3, 6, 2, 4*