©Colette Lewis 2014--
South Bend, IN
It was loud, it was crowded and an upset was in the air at the Eck Tennis Pavilion Saturday afternoon, when top-ranked and recently crowned ITA Team Indoor champion Ohio State fell behind host Notre Dame 2-0.
The Buckeyes had lost the doubles point, and when Notre Dame's Ryan Bandy defeated Ralf Steinback 6-3, 6-3 at No. 4 singles, Ohio State needed to win four of the remaining five matches to stay undefeated. They did, with Peter Kobelt clinching a 4-2 victory with a razor's edge 6-7(5), 7-6(4), 7-6(2) win at No. 1 over Greg Andrews.
The crowd of nearly 500 was shouting itself hoarse in support on the Fighting Irish, with the noise in the bleachers above the six courts drowning out the chair umpires on the courts below. They had plenty to cheer about in the doubles, with Billy Pecor and Josh Hagar at No. 2 and Eric Schnurrenberger and Bandy at 3 both coming back from a break down to give Notre Dame the 1-0 lead. Schnurrenberger and Bandy trailed Ohio State's Chris Diaz and Ralf Steinbach 5-2, only to rattle off the next six games. Kobelt and Kevin Metka took a 8-7(1) decision over Andrews and Alex Lawson at line 1 to briefly pull the Buckeyes even, but by that time Pecor was serving for the point, and he had no difficulty closing out the 8-6 win.
Ohio State didn't exactly come roaring out of the gate in the singles, but they did pick up first sets at line 6, with Callahan taking it over Schnurrenberger, and at line 5, with Metka securing his first set over Ed Covalschi. But at 1, 2 and 3, the Buckeyes could get no advantage, with all three going to a tiebreaker in the first set. Andrews got his first set for Notre Dame, but it was Diaz, over Quentin Monaghan at line 2, and Herkko Pollanen, over Hagar at line 3, in an 80-minute first set, taking their tiebreakers to give the Buckeyes a boost.
Callahan's 6-4, 6-4 win over Schnurrenberger also gave the Buckeyes some momentum, cutting the Irish lead to 2-1, but by that time Covalschi had taken the second from Metka and Kobelt was serving at 5-6 in the second set against Andrews, so Ohio State remained on the edge.
Kobelt held to force a second tiebreaker, and he served well in it, getting two minibreaks and finishing it out with an unreturnable serve.
Diaz then picked up a huge point for the Buckeyes, making it 2-2 with a 7-6(4) 6-4 win over Monaghan at 2.
Covalschi and Metka were on serve as their third set continued, as were Kobelt and Andrews, with Hagar going up 5-2 in the second over Pollanen at 3.
Metka had two match points with Covalschi serving at 5-6, but he couldn't convert either.
"I got two forehand returns, which I wanted," said the left-hander from Worthington, Ohio. "On second serves, and I blocked both of them deep. But luckily I got up quickly in the third set tiebreaker, and that helped me have confidence to hit my serves and close it out."
Metka made it 3-2 Ohio State with his 6-3, 3-6, 7-6(2) victory, meaning that now Notre Dame had to win both matches still on court. Andrews, serving from behind, had no trouble reaching the third tiebreaker of his match with Kobelt, and Hagar had taken the second set from Pollanen with a break at 4-5, after being unable to serve it out at 5-3.
Kobelt started the third set tiebreaker with a double fault, and actually did not serve well, getting only one first serve in throughout. But Andrews, who put himself in position to win points, made errors he had not made up until then, with a double fault and a couple of missed volleys costing him dearly. At 6-2, Kobelt again failed to get a first serve in, but Andrews's backhand found the net, and the disappointed crowd went completely silent.
Kobelt, who had shown almost no emotion, even at the most crucial junctures of the match, turned toward the crowd, stretching both arms out wide.
"I knew it was coming down to our court," said the 6-foot-8 senior from New Albany, Ohio. "It was our first away match and they came out and laid it on us in the doubles point. It was just a great moment to pull through for the team again."
Kobelt wasn't surprised that he was in such a battle with Andrews, also a senior.
"I've played Greg a handful of times, and every time I've played him, it came down to a third set, and a lot of tiebreakers," said Kobelt, who didn't break or get broken in the match. "I wouldn't say I returned bad, I had maybe five or six break points that he played really good points on, so you've got to tip your hat. He's a good player, and that's what I had to expect, that he'd come up with his shots, and he did. That's why the match came down to a third set tiebreaker."
Ohio State head coach Ty Tucker knew his team would have its hands full with the Fighting Irish.
"College tennis is tough," said Tucker. "When you're indoors, on the road, coming into a new environment, it's tough. Notre Dame's a tough, tough team. At the National Indoor, they beat Florida, they beat Mississippi State, they played Virginia tight. We knew when (Blaz) Rola didn't come back, 4-2s and 4-3s were going to be our math to get out."
Notre Dame head coach Ryan Sachire praised the Buckeyes for fighting their way out of a tight spot.
"Give Ohio State a ton of credit," said Sachire, in his first year as Notre Dame head coach, after seven years as assistant to Bobby Bayliss. "We gave them a big punch, backed them into a corner and they were in a situation where they won National Team Indoors, are ranked No. 1 in the country, they have a lot to defend, if they chose to look at that way. A sign of a champion is when you do get backed into the corner, in a situation when you do feel you have something to lose, and you're able to come through. And they did."
Notre Dame had an immediate chance to get back on the winning track, taking on Ball State Saturday evening in the USTA's College Match Day.
The reason the Ohio State match was not streamed as part of the College Match Day was Tucker's reluctance to play the mandated format used in streamed matches, with doubles played only if singles are tied at 3-3.
"Let's be honest. If ESPN doesn't want to do a match with regular scoring like they just saw, I can't help them," Tucker said. "That was a big-time match. They were crazy they didn't have their cameras out there getting that match. That was as good as it gets. If I would have wanted to play College Match Day, with different experiments with formats, I would have asked to have one at our home. I want to play regular rules, put my guys in the best position to win, and that's what I was doing."
"They opted not to play the College Match Day format," said Sachire. "We bid on it with Ohio State being the intended College Match Day match, and Ohio State refused to play under that format. That was their choice and their right to not play that format, so we're happy that the USTA was nice enough to allow us to play Ball State."