topple Hartford 4-2 to advance to America East championship match
ROCKY HILL, Conn. - Top-seeded Binghamton (16-9) advanced to the America East championship match with a hard-fought 4-2 semifinal win over fourth-seeded Hartford indoors Saturday at the Rocky Hill Tennis Center. The Bearcats will now play second-seeded Stony Brook in Sunday's title match, outdoors at noon at the Connecticut Tennis Center.
Much like the earlier match between the two teams (a 5-2 BU win), Saturday's encounter was a lengthy battle - even despite the fact that the doubles was not contested. The match lasted just under five hours, and featured three heart-stopping tie-breaks, including two in the final match at sixth singles.
"I'm relieved to get by Hartford twice," head coach Michael Starke said. "They came to play, but so did we. It was an intense match that could've easily come down to the doubles point. Our fitness played a key role today."
The pivotal match took place at sixth singles, where BU junior Steve Spencer (Plantation, Fla./Nova) rallied from 1-6, 1-4 down to pull out a 1-6, 7-6 (7-5), 7-6 (7-4) victory. Spencer's heroics gave the Bearcats their fourth and clinching point.
"Steve was the man today," Starke said. "He reached deep down and believed in himself. Facing that deficit, he started playing calm, focussed tennis, and did not panic. I give him so much credit for what was one of the gutsiest performances I've seen. I'm so proud of him."
Sophomore No. 1 Akshay Rao (New Delhi, India) provided his usual brand of premier tennis, winning 7-5, 7-5 over two-time reigning America East Player of the Year Pedja Zdravkovic. Senior Brad Sherwood (Bronx, N.Y./Fordham Prep) scored a 6-2, 6-3 win at fourth singles, and freshman Brian O'Connor (New Rochelle, N.Y./Iona Prep) earned a 7-6 (7-5), 6-1 win at the fifth spot.
"Akshay played a beautiful first set, and then after being down three set points in the second, he did what he usually does. Sherwood was all business - it was a case of a senior who wants to go out big. O'Connor weathered the storm, down 4-5 and needing to break serve. He played a gutsy tiebreaker."
In the championship match, Binghamton will have its hands full with a talented Seawolves team that pushed BU to the wire in a 4-3 loss on April 11.
"It's going to be hard," Starke acknowledged. "We might have to find points where we didn't get them in the earlier match. We know what we have to do."
The America East champion receives an automatic berth into the NCAA Championship. Starke's squad would be the first Binghamton team in any sport to receive a national tournament bid at the Division I level.
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