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Saturday, May 19, 2007

Illinois Shocks Ohio State to Reach NCAA Semifinals


©Colette Lewis 2007--
Athens, GA

When I spoke with Brian Boland after Virginia's win over Wake Forest in the round of 16, his first comment was how difficult it was to beat a good team three times in one season. The Cavaliers did it, but the second seeded Ohio State Buckeyes couldn't, falling 4-2 to their Big Ten rival Illinois Saturday afternoon on another picture-perfect day at the Dan Magill Tennis Center.

The consensus was that the 10th seeded Illinois team needed the doubles point, but despite being up a break early in all three matches, they couldn't maintain the advantage at No. 2 and No. 3 and lost it.

Kevin Anderson, the hero in Thursday's win over Ole Miss, quickly got the Illini even however, taking out Bryan Koniecko 6-2, 6-1 at No. 1 singles. There the score stayed for a long time, before Ruben Gonzales of Illinois came back against Justin Kronauge at No. 4 singles 4-6, 6-3, 6-2, to make it 2-1 Illinois.

There weren't many momentum shifts in the match--it was tight all the way--but the biggest probably came at No. 3 singles. After squandering six set points in a 7-6 first set against Buckeye Devin Mullings, Marc Spicijaric went down 3-0 in the second set against the quick left-hander. But he pulled even, much to the delight of the noisy and enthusiastic Illini Net Nuts stationed in the bleachers behind court 3, to keep hope for that point alive.

Only moments after Gonzales put Illini ahead for the first time all day, Drew Eberly brought the Buckeyes back even when he overcame surprise starter Billy Heiser 2-6, 7-5, 6-4 at No. 6. But Illinois' GD Jones took the second of two tiebreaks he won against Chris Klingemann at No. 5 just seconds later, meaning the Buckeyes needed both points still on the court--at No. 3 and No. 2.

As the Net Nuts poured from second bank of courts to the first, asking each other if their voices would hold out much longer, Spicijaric was up 1-0 in the third set, while Steven Moneke of Ohio State held a one-break 4-1 lead over Ryan Rowe at No. 2 singles. Moneke seemed a good bet to even the match, but Rowe got the break back and serving at 4-5 saved two match points to stay alive.

Meanwhile, Spicijaric had picked his game up a notch, and had a 4-1 lead over a suddenly error-prone Mullings. When Spicijaric took a 5-1 lead with yet another break, Illinois was on the threshold of a major upset. And Spicjaric didn't falter. With a confident painting of a line on his first match point, the sophomore from Florida raised his arms and accepted a bear hug from head coach Brad Dancer while Ryan Rowe on the adjoining court raced to join in the celebration.

Illinois will face Baylor on Monday. The Bears sent the North Carolina Wolfpack packing with a convincing 4-0 win in Saturday's first quarterfinal match.

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