In most years, the only drama mustered in Baylor’s first-round NCAA tournament matches has come from trying to figure out which players would put points on the board.
The outcomes were foregone conclusions, but the Bears faced a different test against Utah.
Baylor’s top four singles players were each pushed to 5-all in the first set, with the top three all going into tiebreakers. All four came out on top in those sets, and when weather pushed the match indoors, Baylor carried over that momentum and closed out a 4-0 victory Friday night.
“It’s hard to play the first round in the NCAA tournament in the first place, then you play a great team like Utah it makes it that much more difficult,” Baylor coach Brian Boland said. “I was pleased with the guys’ competitiveness, but we certainly have to get ready for tomorrow.”
The Bears advance to the second round to meet Michigan, a 4-2 winner over Dartmouth, at 6 p.m. Saturday at the Hurd Tennis Center. Baylor traveled to meet the Wolverines on Jan. 27 in the second match of the season and came away with a 4-1 victory.
On Friday, it was Sven Lah who had the easiest night on Court 5. He broke for a 3-1 lead in the first set and 3-2 in the second and was in complete control the rest of the way in a 6-2, 6-3 victory that gave Baylor a 2-0 lead.
Johannes Schretter had his hands full with Dan Little at the top of the lineup. Schretter overcame three break points serving at 2-3, broke for a 4-3 lead but then handed the break right back at love in the next game. Both held all the way to the tiebreaker, where it was all Schretter, and he cruised to a 4-0 lead in the second before holding on for a 7-6 (2), 6-2 decision to push the advantage to 3-0.
It was a similar storyline on Court 3, where Adrian Boitan took a first-set tiebreaker to capture the momentum and broke out to a 3-0 second-set lead before holding on to clinch the match with a 7-6 (4), 6-2 victory over Slava Shainyan.
It was the second straight match Boitan clinched, as he put the final point on the board in the Big 12 tournament championship against Texas.
“We didn’t have the biggest energy we could have given on the court,” Boitan said. “But when we moved indoors that all changed. Everybody was pumped up on the court.”
Utah’s Joe Woolley was two points from giving the Utes (17-12), Baylor’s first-ever Power Five Conference opponent at home in the NCAA first round, a point when his match at No. 6 against Kyrylo Tsygura was abandoned.
Soto had righted the ship for the Bears after dumping the second set, 6-0, and led, 2-0, in the third against David Micevski, and Will Little was up a set and on serve at 4-5 in the second.
“There was a lot of adversity and momentum changes throughout the match,” Boland said. “We won the doubles point but credit to Utah. They pushed really hard in those first sets. Matias (Soto) was down 5-1 in the breaker and pulled a close tiebreaker out, and Adrian had to break to get back into the tiebreaker. We got a little fortunate there, and Will (Little) had (to break to stay in the first set) and went on to win the first set. This is certainly one of the most difficult first rounds in the country, that’s for sure.”
The Bears took the opening point by claiming the doubles matches at No. 3, where Schretter and Constantin Frantzen defeated Woolley and Russell Benkaim, 6-2, and at No. 1, where the nation’s top-ranked team of Lah and Jimmy Bendeck held off Micevski and Shainyan, 6-4.