Ohio State Ends Southern Cal's Four Year Reign; Buckeyes Joined in Men's Final Four by Georgia, UCLA and Virginia
©Colette Lewis 2013--
University of Southern California head coach Peter Smith has had sleepless nights at the NCAA Team Tournament, but the past four years those nights have been spent in celebrating an NCAA championship. This year, he'll lie awake thinking about what might have been, after his team, seeded fourth, lost to fifth seed Ohio State 4-3 in Saturday evening's semifinal at the Khan Outdoor Tennis Center at the University of Illinois.
Smith may reflect on the match point that Emilio Gomez and Roberto Quiroz had in the tiebreaker that decided the doubles point at No. 2 doubles.
Ohio State easily took the No. 1 doubles match, with Peter Kobelt and Connor Smith defeating Yannick Hanfmann and Raymond Sarmiento 8-3, but the other two matches were as tight as possible. At one stage, both matches were 7-7 deuce, and both eventually went to tiebreakers, with USC needing to win at lines 2 and 3 to earn the point.
USC's Max De Vroome and Eric Johnson put all the focus on court 2 when they beat Blaz Rola and Hunter Callahan 9-8(3) at 3, with the loud and numerous Ohio State fans turning their full attention to supporting Devin McCarthy and Ille Van Engelen at 2.
USC's Gomez and Quiroz, who played Davis Cup for Ecuador this spring in that country's 3-2 upset of Chile, had a match point at 6-5 in the tiebreaker, with Quiroz serving. The service return was on its way long but Gomez had left a little early and it touched his racquet, giving Ohio State the point. Gomez and Quiroz saved one match point, but not the second, with Van Engelen converting with a forehand volley winner.
"We jump a little early at that doubles, and that's the difference," said Smith. "When you play a great team like this, the difference is centimeters and that's what it was today."
In the singles, USC took control at lines 5 and 6, but all the other matches were extremely close. Johnson tied the score with his 6-3, 6-3 win over Chris Diaz at 5, but Ohio State regained the lead with a virtuoso performance by Rola at No. 1. Rola defeated Gomez 6-1, 6-0, but USC answered right back, with De Vroome defeating Constantin Christ 6-3, 6-1 at line 6 to make it 2-2.
USC looked certain to win at 3, with Hanfmann leading Smith 7-5, 4-1, up two breaks in the second set, while the Buckeyes had taken the first sets at lines 2 and 4 in tiebreakers and were early in their second sets.
McCarthy got on a roll in the second set, taking a 5-0 lead over Quiroz and posting the Buckeyes' third point with a 7-6(1), 6-1 win.
By then Smith had gotten both of the breaks back at 3, winning four straight games to take a 5-4 lead, while Kobelt and Sarmiento at 2 were on serve at 5-5 in the second set. Smith and Hanfmann went to a tiebreaker, as their teammates stood on the sidelines pivoting between the two courts, shouting encouragement after every point.
The 6-foot-7 Kobelt was having no difficulty holding serve, and Sarmiento was holding his with only slightly more effort. Serving at 4-5 in the second, Sarmiento was down 15-30, two points from defeat, but he came up with a big serve himself and some impressive forehands to hold.
By the time the tiebreaker on 2 began, which Sarmiento had to win to extend the match, Hanfmann had pulled USC even with a 7-5, 7-6(4) win over Smith.
For all that was on the line in the tiebreaker, both players stayed focused and executed their shots, with nerves not evidenced in their strokes or their second serves. Kobelt played flawlessly, getting a minibreak at 3-2 when Sarmiento's backhand went long. It was all the junior from Ohio needed, with a confident forehand putaway making it 5-3. After a long rally on the next point, it was Sarmiento who finally missed, netting a forehand, and Kobelt had three match points.
Kobelt thought he had hit an ace on his first match point, but the chair confirmed Sarmiento's out call. The crowd agreed with Kobelt, but he showed no signs of dismay or irritation, and immediately hit an excellent second serve. He attacked Sarmiento's return and Sarmiento rushed his next shot, hitting a forehand wide to set off a wild celebration by Ohio State.
"Even a blind squirrel gets a nut once in a while," said Ohio State head coach Ty Tucker. "Ohio State tennis beats USC tennis every once in a while. Hats off to what Peter Smith's done--four national championships in a row. We started this streak with them in 2009 and he continued it for four years. This is a little bit of consolation, that's for sure, but I'd rather have the big trophy from 2009 sitting at our place."
As for the performance of Kobelt in ending the Trojans' run of four straight titles, the voluble Tucker was, almost, at a loss for words.
"Peter Kobelt, what can you say?," said Tucker. "The guy's got a 135 mile an hour hammer. He's not facing any adversity at all in his service games. Peter Kobelt's made a jump, he's definitely for real."
Kobelt was determined to use what he had learned in his disappointing loss to Virginia's Alex Domijan in the deciding match of the Team Indoor semifinals.
"I don't think I could have handled it as well as I did today if I hadn't been in positions like that in the past," said Kobelt, a junior from Ohio. "I was in a similar position against Alex Domijan at National Indoors and it didn't work out. I really made an effort after that, in practice matches and actual matches, to really focus on closing out matches and if I was ever back in that situation, I would capitalize. And I ended up helping my team advance today."
Peter Smith admitted that despite his belief Ohio State "was well-deserving, they played to win and they won," he was disappointed.
"I won't sleep tonight," Smith said. "I'll have my moments. But that's competition, and you can't always expect to win every one...We put ourselves in a position to win another national championship, and they were just a little too good for us today."
4. Jarryd Chaplin (TENN) vs. #69 Ryan Shane (UVA) 6-4, 3-6, 4-2*
5. #28 Mac Styslinger (UVA) def. John Collins (TENN) 6-4, 6-4