The visiting Richmond Spiders edged the host Liberty Flames, 4-3, in a lengthy bout on Friday night at Crosswhite Athletic Club.
In a match that featured dramatic momentum swings and nearly four hours of action, it ultimately came down to the No. 5 singles bout between Alex Poynter (Liberty) and Klein Evans (Richmond) with the matched knotted at 3-3. Poynter staved off two match points in the third set when trailing 5-4, but Evans ultimately prevailed, 6-3, 5-7, 7-5 to give the Spiders their fourth consecutive win over the Flames in the all-time series.
Liberty drops to 1-2 with the loss, while Richmond improves to 1-1 on the season.
"We laid it on the line as a team and came up a bit short. The best part of today is this is just the beginning of the season," said Flames head coach Derek Schwandt. "We have to stay in the process and get better. Thanks to all who came out to support."
Liberty trailed, 3-1, following three Richmond wins, but the Flames received victories in the No. 3 and No. 6 slots from Eddie Gutierrez and Diego Castano, respectively, to square the match, 3-3.
Gutierrez toughed out a two-set triumph over the Spiders' John Karlawish, 6-4, 7-6 (4). The Mexico City, Mexico, native trailed, 6-5, in the second set but forced a tiebreaker, which he won, 7-4. His win brought Liberty within a point (3-2) of Richmond.
Meanwhile, senior Diego Castano, who was the last Liberty competitor to start his match with George Lovitt, exhibited strong play throughout in a dominating 6-4, 6-2 victory. The senior's first win of the spring evened the match, 3-3, and turned all the attention back to the match between Poynter and Evans.
Trailing 5-4 and 40-30 in the third set, Poynter won the next two points, as his opponent missed long and wide into the doubles alley. Lovitt's errors evened the set at 5-5. However, the second-year Richmond player won four of the points in the next game and all four points when leading 6-5 to close out the match and spoil Liberty's home opener.
The Flames once again proved their mettle in doubles, winning the doubles point for the third time in a row to start the spring. The duo of Castano and Poynter rolled to a 6-0 victory over Caleb Troy and James Aronson in the No. 1 doubles match.
On court two, the Flames' Gutierrez and sophomore Vince Salas trailed, 4-2, in their match against Brice Polender and Lovitt. The Liberty duo erased the deficit by winning the next four games to capture the match, 6-4, and give the Flames an early 1-0 edge.
Momentum swung in the Spiders' favor during the middle of the match. Richmond collected victories in the No. 1, No. 2 and No. 4 positions to surge ahead to a 3-1 lead.
First, Aronson won in straight sets on court four over Salas, 6-1, 6-0, to even the match at 1-1. The Spiders' No. 2 singles player, Matt Fernandez,then took down the Flames' Chase Burton in straight sets (6-4, 6-3) for Richmond's first lead of the day, 2-1.
The No. 1 singles bout featured a big turnaround for the Spiders. Troy dropped the first set (6-1) to Liberty's top player, Sam Matheson, but rebounded for a 1-6, 6-1, 6-2 win. The Richmond senior's victory solidified a 3-1 lead for the visitors.
The Flames will hit the road for the entire month of February to play nine matches, starting next weekend. Liberty will first play at Auburn, next Friday at 6 p.m. Following that match, the Flames will compete at Kennesaw State on Sunday, Feb. 4 at noon.