The scores certainly don't reflect it, but Southern Cal and Ohio State had their hands full as day turned to night at the Khan Outdoor Center Thursday.
No. 4 seed and four-time defending champion Southern California dropped the doubles point but came back to defeat No. 13 Baylor 4-1, while No. 5 Ohio State shut out No. 12 Texas A&M to avenge one of their two defeats this year.
USC won its 27th straight match in the NCAA tournament, and head coach Peter Smith likened this evening's win over Baylor with one of the early victories in that impressive streak.
"The last time we had a round of 16 match like that was in 2009 against Stanford," said Smith. "They battle and how long did that match take? Three hours and 20 minutes? And I felt like they were winning it for about three hours. Every match went three sets, and I love that. Once it got going, I was just telling every guy, this is a battle, just enjoy it."
The teams split first sets, with Baylor taking the openers at lines 2, 3 and 6. USC closed out all the matches in which they had the first set, with Emilio Gomez at 1, Roberto Quiroz at 4 and Eric Johnson at 5 closing out their matches to make it 3-1. Baylor was unable to make inroads in those matches, but USC worked their way into a third set with Raymond Sarmiento at 2 and Yannick Hanfmann at 3 taking second sets from Julian Lenz and Mate Zsiga.
Hanfmann and Zsiga were late in the third, tied at 5-5 when Hanfmann, a sophomore from Germany, broke Zsiga at love and stepped to the line to serve out the win.
It was a comfortable place for Hanfmann, who clinched the Team Indoor title for the Trojans in 2012 and the NCAA title for them last year.
"I don't prefer to be the one at the end, but it happens like that," said Hanfmann. "I've been in that situation a couple of times, so I think I know how to deal with it. I'm pretty calm out there and the coaches help me with that. It's an uncomfortable situation, but I handle it comfortably."
Hanfmann hit two big serves to get to 30-0, then put away a short forehand to earn three match points. He missed his first serve, just barely, on the first one, but his second serve was so good that Zsiga couldn't get it back in play.
"To have it come down to Yannick, it's a comfortable feeling," said Smith. "He's improved so much, and the whole match I was thinking how much better he is than a year ago. Zsiga is the biggest warrior, I call him the beast, and you've got to beat that guy. "
No. 4 USC 4, No. 13 Baylor 1
4 p.m. CT – South Courts
1. #7 Emilio Gomez (USC) def. #24 Patrick Pradella (BAY) 6-4, 6-2
2. #55 Julian Lenz (BAY) vs. #16 Ray Sarmiento (USC) 6-4, 3-6, 3-1*
3. #45 Yannick Hanfmann (USC) def. #84 Mate Zsiga (BAY) 3-6, 6-1, 7-5
4. #36 Roberto Quiroz (USC) def. #109 Tony Lupieri (BAY) 6-2, 7-6(2)
5. #90 Eric Johnson (USC) def. Diego Galeano (BAY) 6-3, 7-5
6. #68 Marko Krickovic (BAY) vs. Jonny Wang (USC) 6-4, 5-6*
1. #63 Zsiga/Galeano (BAY) def. #37 Hanfmann/Sarmiento (USC) 8-6
2. #47 Gomez/Quiroz (USC) vs. Pradella/Maytin (BAY) 8-5
3. Lenz/Lupieri (BAY) def. de Vroome/Johnson (USC) 8-5
Order of Finish: Doubles (2,3,1); Singles (1,4,5,3)
* = unfinished
Ohio State had the added motivation of an early season 4-3 loss to Texas A&M, but unlike that February day in College Station, this time the Buckeyes took the doubles point.
"Doubles is key," said Ohio State head coach Ty Tucker. "We try to bring energy, do good things. It helps when you have the NCAA champ from last year playing three doubles."
After taking the doubles point, Ohio State took four first sets in singles, but Texas A&M earned a split at No. 3, with Harrison Adams taking the second set from Connor Smith. Chris Diaz was having difficulty closing out Aggie Jackson Withrow at No. 5, but he finally gave Ohio State a 2-0 lead, closely followed by Buckeye Peter Kobelt, who won the battle of the one-handed backhands with Junior Ore 6-4, 7-6(4) at line 2.
Smith was serving for the match against Adams at 5-3, but was down 15-40 in that game before closing out a 6-4, 1-6, 6-3 win.
"Was I down 15-40?," the senior from Florida asked. "I don't even remember, I guess I was. I was just playing one point at a time. It was tough conditions--I haven't played under the lights all year, and with all the wind swirling, it was just tough. He's one of those players where I feel he goes really good, then goes down, so you just have to stay with him the whole time. He's a very talented player, but he's a freshman, and I just didn't want to lose to a freshman."
Tucker was full of praise for Smith, who had lost his match at No. 5 singles in the previous meeting between the two teams.
"Connor Smith was very, very good," said Tucker. "Owned the doubles court at No. 1 doubles, and came through. We would have like to have seen him put up more of a battle in the second set, but Connor Smith, grandpa, doesn't want to it end. He wants to play a few more times."
Looking ahead to USC in Saturday's quarterfinals, Tucker knows his team faces a challenge.
"We're 0-4 in the last 4 and they've owned us," said Tucker, who lost to USC at the 2012 Indoor final that Hanfmann clinched. "They've done some good things. The doubles point will obviously be key, but I'd hate to lose to them again. I'd have to ask Peter Smith if I could go out; he'd be in charge of me. Five in a row, he owns me."
No. 5 Ohio State 4, No. 12 Texas A&M 0
4 p.m. CT – North Courts
1. #12 Blaz Rola (OSU) vs. #18 Jeremy Efferding (TAMU) 3-6, 7-5, 1-0*
2. #8 Peter Kobelt (OSU) def. #100 Junior Ore (TAMU) 6-4, 7-6(4)
3. #71 Connor Smith (OSU) def. #103 Harrison Adams (TAMU) 6-4, 1-6, 6-3
4. #73 Devin McCarthy (OSU) vs. #76 Shane Vinsant (TAMU) 7-6(2), 6-5*
5. #104 Chris Diaz (OSU) def. Jackson Withrow (TAMU) 6-1, 7-5
6. Jordan Szabo (TAMU) vs. Hunter Callahan (OSU) 6-3, 4-6, 3-1*
1. #12 Kobelt/Smith (OSU) def. #8 Ore/Withrow (TAMU) 8-4
2. #29 Adams/Vinsant (TAMU) def. #90 McCarthy/Van Engelen (OSU) 8-5
3. Rola/Callahan (OSU) def. Efferding/Szabo (TAMU) 8-6
Order of Finish: Doubles (2,1,3); Singles (5,2,3)