The Flames are alone atop the Big South standings at 3-0 after their 6-1 win over Asheville, Saturday.
Liberty men's tennis continued its winning ways in the Big South, besting the visiting UNC Asheville Bulldogs, 6-1, on Saturday afternoon at the Cook Tennis Center.
Saturday's win featured an early doubles victory in two of the three matches and five singles wins (No. 1, No. 2, No. 3, No. 5 and No. 6). The Flames (9-7) are now 3-0 in Big South play for the first time since 2015 and stand alone atop the conference standings. UNC Asheville (3-8) falls to 0-2 in the league.
"We played hard throughout the entire match. Sam (Matheson) beat a very good player in Henry Patten, and he had to earn it," stated Flames head coach Derek Schwandt. "Eddie did a great job coming back in the third set and finding a way to match his opponent. It was a great team match today to follow up yesterday. I'm proud of this group."
Things got off to a promising start for the host Flames. For a second straight day, Liberty claimed victories in the No. 2 and No. 3 doubles matches to seize an early 1-0 advantage. The No. 3 duo of Chase Burton and Sam Matheson lost their first two games to Andrew Sinai and Finlay Ray McFadyen but stormed back and won the last six games for a 6-2 victory.
The Bulldogs' top duo, Henry Patten and Olly Cull, overcame the Flames' Eddie Gutierrez and Vince Salas 6-2 on court one. The final match to finish was between Liberty's Diego Castano and Alex Poynter and Asheville's Edward Colclough and Oli Nolan on court two. The experienced Flames duo collected a 6-3 victory in that final match, their 13th overall of the 2017-18 season, providing a 1-0 lead for Liberty.
The Flames exhibited poise in singles as well. Burton, slotted in the No. 3 position, topped his fellow competitor, Edward Colclough, in straight sets, 6-3, 6-2, pushing the Liberty lead to two points (2-0). The Naples, Fla., native is now 7-4 playing in the No. 3 singles spot, this spring.
Much like Friday against Gardner-Webb, Liberty received contributions from the bottom of its singles lineup. Coming off a thrilling three-set victory on Friday, Castano required only two sets to knock off the Bulldogs' Sinai (6-3, 6-1). The Flames senior's third straight victory on court six, which improved his No. 6 singles mark to a sterling 9-3, brought Liberty within a point of closing out Asheville at 3-0.
Flames 6-foot-5 junior Poynter (No. 5 singles) secured the match for the home side with a straight-sets (6-4, 6-3) win of his own over his opponent, McFadyen.
While the first three singles bouts to finish ensured victory for Liberty, a lot was still left to be decided on courts one, two and four.
The Flames' Gutierrez (No. 2 singles), faced with the possibility of losing his second match of the weekend, refused to be defeated in his match against Nolan. Nolan won set one, 6-4, but Gutierrez erased the one-set deficit with a 6-1 victory in the second.
Nolan looked to close out the match, as he led, 5-2, in the third set. However, the Liberty junior broke serve the Asheville freshman's serve on two occasions, eventually leading to a tiebreaker at 6-6. Gutierrez grinded out a 10-8 win in the tiebreaker for a 4-6, 6-1, 7-6 (8) victory. Each of his last four victories and six of his last seven triumphs have come in three-set battles.
With Gutierrez's 19th singles victory of the season bumping the hosts' lead up to 5-0, the Bulldogs finally got on the scoreboard with a three-set victory of their own from Cull over Salas, 6-3, 3-6, 7-5, on court four.
The No. 1 singles bout between the last two Big South Player of the Year recipients, Liberty's Sam Matheson (2016) and Asheville's Henry Patten (2017), provided a dramatic closure to Saturday's match.
Matheson let a 4-1 lead in the first set slip away but edged Patten, 7-6 (8-6), in a tiebreaker. Patten, the 55th-ranked player in the country, responded with a 6-2 second-set victory to force a third set.
With the stage set for a third set, the two competitors delivered a back-and-forth battle, which, fittingly, came down to another tiebreaker. Matheson outlasted Patten, 7-5, in that final tiebreaker to win 7-6 (6), 2-6, 7-6 (5), closing the books on a 6-1 Liberty victory over Asheville.
Up next for the Flames is a trip to the West Coast. Liberty will play three matches in California, starting at UC Irvine, this upcoming Friday. A week from today, the Flames will compete at Point Loma Nazarene and will close out the trip at San Diego State (March 21). Liberty competed at the Aztec Fall Invitational in the fall (Oct. 6-8), held at San Diego State.
Liberty 6, UNC Asheville 1 Singles competition 1. MATHESON, Sam (LIBERTYM) def. #55 PATTEN, Henry (AVLM) 7-6 (8-6), 2-6, 7-6 (7-5) 2. GUTIERREZ, Eddie (LIBERTYM) def. NOLAN, Oli (AVLM) 4-6, 6-1, 7-6 (10-8) 3. BURTON, Chase (LIBERTYM) def. COLCLOUGH, Edward (AVLM) 6-3, 6-2 4. CULL, Olly (AVLM) def. SALAS, Vince (LIBERTYM) 6-3, 3-6, 7-5 5. POYNTER, Alex (LIBERTYM) def. MCFADYEN, Finlay Ray (AVLM) 6-4, 6-3 6. CASTANO, Diego (LIBERTYM) def. SINAI, Andrew (AVLM) 6-1, 6-3
Doubles competition 1. PATTEN, Henry/CULL, Olly (AVLM) def. GUTIERREZ, Eddie/SALAS, Vince (LIBERTYM) 6-2 2. POYNTER, Alex/CASTANO, Diego (LIBERTYM) def. COLCLOUGH, Edward/NOLAN, Oli (AVLM) 6-3 3. BURTON, Chase/MATHESON, Sam (LIBERTYM) def. SINAI, Andrew/MCFADYEN, Finlay Ray (AVLM) 6-2
Order of finish: Doubles (3,1,2); Singles (3,6,5,2,4,1) Official: D Harrison/A Sarver T-3:10