The No. 5 seed Liberty Flames men's tennis squad overcame an early 3-0 deficit in the match to force a dramatic finish. However, No. 1 seeded Coastal Carolina proved too much, winning the final match to clinch a narrow 4-3 victory over the upset-minded Flames at the Big South Men's Tennis Championship semifinals on Friday at the Cook Tennis Center.
The Chanticleers improve to 20-3 overall and advance to the Big South Championship tomorrow at 3 p.m. Liberty concludes its season with an 11-11 overall mark.
Coastal claimed the doubles point to take the early 1-0 lead, winning 6-2 and 6-1 from the No. 1 and No. 2 doubles slots.
The Chanticleers rattled off back-to-back singles victories from the No. 5 and No. 6 singles positions, taking the 3-0 edge over Liberty.
With their backs against the wall, the Flames would not go down quietly. Sam Matheson, currently ranked No. 94 in the latest ITA National Ranking, earned a straight-set victory over Jabor Al-Mutawa in the No. 1 singles slot. Matheson's 7-5, 6-2 victory marked his 28th singles win of the season, setting a new program record for most singles win in a single season.
Liberty used the momentum to edge closer to the Chanticleers from the No. 3 singles position. Freshman Eddie Gutierrez earned a three-set victory to pull the Flames to within one of top-seeded Coastal Carolina. Gutierrez fell in the first set 6-2, but rebounded to win the second set 6-4. Gutierrez rode his second-set momentum into the third frame, besting Pedro Leme in a tiebreak 7-6(2).
Shortly after Liberty pulled within one, sophomore Diego Castano delivered the equalizer from the No. 4 singles slot. Castano bested Sebastian Schneider in the first set 7-5 before falling 6-3 in the second frame. The second-set loss did not phase Castano, as the North Carolina native cruised to a 6-2 victory in the third set to even the contest at three apiece.
The match was decided in the third three-set battle of the match, between Egon Samaai and Vuk Velickovic. Samaai claimed the first set 7-6(4) before slipping 6-3 in the second set. With the two competitors going toe-to-toe trying to push their team into the conference finals, it was Velickovic who would outlast Samaai in the third set, winning 6-4 to clinch the match 4-3 in favor of the Chanticleers.
Matheson finished the season as the highest-ranked Big South competitor. Should the New Zealand native finish inside the Top 125, he will have the opportunity to compete in the NCAA Men's Tennis Championship as an individual on May 19 in Tulsa, Okla. Matheson will have to await the final decision on the selection show, which will take place May 4.
Coastal Carolina 4, Liberty 3 Doubles