MURFEEBORO, N.C. -- West Virginia Wesleyan, playing shorthanded and with a makeshift lineup, advanced to second round of the NCAA Men's Division II Tennis Tournament with a dramatic 5-4 win over conference rival West Liberty University here Saturday evening.
The third-seeded Bobcats move on to face No. 2 seed Chowan University here Sunday at 1 p.m.
The host Hawks, ranked #41 nationally, dropped a 6-3 decision to Wesleyan back on March 12.
"This was a fantastic college tennis match," said Bobcat head coach Marc Walters, who saw his team reach the round of 32 for the first time since 2013. "Both of these teams just gave it all out there tonight, and in the end we had a tad more in the tank than they did this time."
The entire match was a back and forth duel that saw both Wesleyan and West Liberty trade wins all the way through.
Moments after Ramon Rodriguez lost a tense three-set match to West Liberty's Santiago Gutierrez to tie the dual match at 4-4 all, all eyes fell on the last court still playing.
Freshman Thomas McIntosh (pictured), who was not only playing in his first NCAA match but was seeing his first big match duty of the year, came through in the clutch for the 'Cats by clinching the final point with a 6-3, 3-6, 6-3 victory over West Liberty's Pablo Cimorra at the No. 6 singles position.
The final game of the match, indicative of the entire night, lasted 22 minutes, and saw McIntosh save nine game points before converting his sixth match point opportunity to seal the win and start the Bobcats' celebrating.
There were so many key points in the match for both teams, but perhaps the biggest came for the Bobcats when senior Nathan Sabate turned in the upset of the day by defeating two-time, MEC Player of the Year Baptiste Perrin, coming from behind to take a 4-6, 6-2, 6-3 win at No. 1 singles.
Perrin had beaten Sabate all five times they have faced each other in singles before Saturday, but the Bobcat leader was up to the task as he unleashed a steady barrage of relentless ground strokes and moved flawlessly over the duration of the three hour match.
"That was just huge for Nathan, and something that he has been on the verge of for two years," said Walters. "Baptiste is beast for those guys, and Nathan just grinded all night until he broke through and got the result he has been hunting for."
Perrin is currently the No. 2 ranked singles player in the ITA Atlantic region, and has been ranked in the national top 50 several times in his career. Sabate is ranked at #17 in the Atlantic, making this Perrin's first regional loss to a player outside the top three.
The singles heroics did not end there for the Bobcats, as the the steady play of Alexander Lyudinovskiy also prevailed in a big match-up.
Lyudinovskiy, another freshman, took the #3 singles spot with a 6-1 7-5 win over WLU senior Andy Ponder, but not before he faced two set points against him at 4-5, 15-40 in the second set.
Ponder returned to the Hilltopper side after four weeks out with an injury, just in time to bolster their team for the NCAAs. At the same time, Bobcat freshman Lukas Laipold was missing from the 'Cats lineup due to a leg injury suffered in the MEC Championships last Sunday. So the two teams faced off against each other with an almost completely different set of singles match-ups this time around, but with almost the same results.
Lost in the singles drama was the 2-1 lead the Bobcats took after the doubles, which was not without drama of it's own. Down 7-4 and facing match points against them, Ferran Berga and Jacobo Rendon rallied to take the final five games and grab a 9-7 win at No. 3 doubles for Wesleyan.
This followed a strong effort from the tandem of Rodriguez and Pedro Nassar, paired back together by virtue of the Laipold injury. The duo was able to break their Hilltopper opponents in two of their last four service games to get the match and put the Bobcats on the board.
"At one point tonight, at the three-hour mark of the singles, we were tied at 3-3 and the final three matches were all in the third set," said Walters. "Each of those matches were battles and I took a second to just appreciate the effort that all of the kids on both teams were putting out. It was truly worthy of and NCAA tennis match."
Wesleyan, now 17-6 on the year, won their 12th consecutive match heading into tomorrow's rematch with Chowan.
Walters does not know exactly how well his team will rebound physically after this battle, but he is confident they will give a great effort.
"We will go back to the hotel, get some rest, eat, and turn around and do it all over again tomorrow," he said. "They're young, and this is the NCAAs. I don't think I'll need to make much of a speech to motivate anyone. I have a good feeling they will be ready to fight."