WACO -- In his NCAA Championship debut, freshman Brad Williams (Cape Town, South Africa) helped the No. 35-ranked Texas A&M men’s tennis team clinch a spot in tomorrow’s regional final with a 4-2 victory over No. 30 Rice in first-round action held Friday afternoon at the Baylor Tennis Center.
Williams, who has played in only three dual matches in the months of March and April, put away Rice’s Tobias Scheil, 6-4, 6-1, at the No. 4 line for the Aggies. A&M claimed four of five singles matches to secure the victory. The Aggies snapped a six-match losing streak dating back to a 5-2 win over Texas Tech on March 30.
Rice captured the doubles point after A&M put up a fight at the No. 1 and No. 3 lines. Junior Matt Bain (Georgetown, Texas) and sophomore Conor Pollock (San Antonio, Texas) easily picked up their 20th doubles victory of the season with an 8-3 rout of Rice’s Jason Mok and Chris Müller at the No. 2 position. In the deciding match, senior Bryan Wooten (Houston, Texas) and freshman Luka Ocvirk (Ljubljana, Slovenia) fell to No. 51-ranked Ralph Knupfer and Tobias Scheil at No. 1.
In singles play, junior All-American Jerry Makowski (Bradenton, Fla.) and Pollock paced the Aggies with a one-two finish to give A&M a 2-1 lead. Playing at the top of the lineup, Makowski claimed his sixth win over a ranked opponent this season with a straight-set victory over No. 38-ranked Ben Harknett, 6-3, 6-2. Meanwhile, All-Big 12 performer Pollock improved his team-leading dual match record to 17-6 with an identical 6-3, 6-2 victory over Ralph Knupfer at the No. 2 line.
“We had a total team effort today,” Texas A&M head coach Steve Denton said. “We were disappointed to lose the doubles point, but looking back, it may have been better for us. Each guy took care of his (singles) court and we were able to stay on top and gain momentum. They (players) utilized every point to their advantage.”
Matt Bain boosted the A&M momentum with a 6-0, 6-3 victory over Filip Zivojinovic at the No. 5 position. He avenged a previous three-set loss to Zivojinovic at the ITA South Central Regionals in fall tournament play. Bain owns a team-best 27-11 overall record in singles this season.
Prior to the match, Conference USA runner-up Rice (15-12) was 1-1 against Big 12 Conference opponents including a 4-3 upset of then No. 16-ranked Texas on Feb. 25. The Owls fall to 4-6 all-time in the NCAA Championship.
For the fourth time this season, the Aggies beat a team ranked higher than themselves in the ITA/FILA Collegiate Tennis Rankings next to wins over Tulsa, New Mexico and Michigan. A&M has now avoided a first-round loss for the 10th consecutive year and has advanced past the first round 12 times in school history. The Aggies are also 2-8 this season when losing the doubles point.
“The NCAA Tournament is a whole new season for us and this is what it is all about – survive and advance,” Denton said. “The journey is far from over for us and we have many more goals to achieve. We will play and swing as hard as we can and see what happens.”
The Aggies (15-11) will face top-seeded Baylor (25-3) tomorrow in the regional final at 5 p.m. The Bears advanced with a 4-0 shutout of Oral Roberts (10-8). A&M leads BU in the all-time series, 23-12. In both team’s last meeting, Baylor won 5-2 on April 3 in Waco. A&M’s two victories came from Makowski and Pollock at the No. 1 and No. 2 lines. The Aggies last faced BU in NCAA Championship play in the Round of 16 in 2005.