Castano (left) and Poynter (right) won in doubles and each won singles matches on Friday.
Liberty senior Diego Castano and sophomore Vince Salas delivered clutch three-set victories in the final two matches, lifting the Flames to a 4-3 victory over the Gardner-Webb Runnin' Bulldogs, Friday at the Cook Tennis Center.
Liberty bolsters its record to 8-7 overall and 2-0 in the Big South. The Flames now share first place in the league with Campbell (2-0) and Winthrop (2-0). Gardner-Webb drops to 6-10 overall and 0-3 in Big South play with the loss.
"What a team match today. I told the guys how proud I am of them for all the hard work we have put in. It showed up today," stated Flames head coach Derek Schwandt. "We played disciplined throughout the match and kept fighting. Huge credit to our guys for believing and persevering."
Castano's victory came in the No. 6 singles match against Breno Plentz, 6-2, 3-6, 7-5. In the first set, the Liberty senior broke serve three times. Plentz took the last four games of the second set, forcing a deciding third set. In that final set, with the Flames trailing in the match, 3-2, Castano led, 6-5, with Plentz serving.
Castano built up a 40-15 lead and had three match points before finally closing it out on the third one. At deuce point (40-40), the Statesville, N.C., native hit a hard volley at Plentz, who was coming to the net. Plentz's return went into the net, giving Castano the victory, the 65th of his four-year Liberty career.
Meanwhile, Salas dropped his first set, 6-3, to Stefano Puga and faced a match point (deuce point), down 5-4, in the second. Salas won that point to take the game and stay alive in the match. The Angeles, Philippines, native battled to capture the next two games and the set, 7-5. After Castano closed out his match with Plentz, all eyes turned to court four's third set between Salas and Puga, which got off to a promising start for Salas (2-1 lead).
The Liberty sophomore rose to the occasion and dominated the final four games. Leading 5-1 and with a match point, Salas ripped a backhanded shot to Puga's backhand. The Campbell sophomore's return failed to clear the net. Salas' come-from-behind victory (3-6, 7-5, 6-1) gave the Flames their third 4-3 win of the spring and second in the last eight days.
Despite a dominating win from Gardner-Webb's No. 1 tandem (Maximilian Scholl and Millen Hurrion, 6-0, over Eddie Gutierrez and Vince Salas), the Flames seized the doubles point with victories from their No. 3 and No. 2 pairings.
Liberty senior Sam Matheson and sophomore Chase Burton (No. 3 doubles) bested the Runnin Bulldogs' Breno Plentz and Ross Gilbert, 6-3. The Flames' pairing took an early 1-0 lead in the match and never trailed.
On court two, senior Diego Castano and junior Alex Poynter delivered a 6-2 victory over their opponents, Johan Fors and Paul Hogan, sealing the doubles point for the home side to make it 1-0, Flames. Leading 2-1 in the match, the Liberty duo won a deuce point and rode the momentum to the 6-2 win, their seventh doubles victory of the spring and 12th of the season.
Gardner-Webb showed no ill effects of the doubles disappointment at the start of singles play. The Runnin' Bulldogs received victories in the No. 3, No. 1 and No. 2 singles match, in that order, which allowed them to take a 3-2 lead. The Flames' Alex Poynter scored Liberty's second point of the afternoon in the No. 5 position, 6-2, 6-3, over Adam Schmidt.
Gardner-Webb's Paul Hogan scored the visitors' first point of the day with a two-set triumph (6-4, 6-4) over Burton on court three. Following Poynter's win for Liberty, No. 1 Scholl took down the Flames' Matheson in straight sets (7-5, 6-1). Just like his doubles partner (Scholl), Hurrion bested Gutierrez in two sets (6-4, 6-4) as well. The Gardner-Webb freshman's victory allowed the Runnin' Bulldogs to take their first lead of the day, 3-2, prior to the comeback from Liberty.
With Friday's win, the Flames (8-7) have now surpassed their win total (7) from 2017.
Liberty will host its second match of the weekend on Saturday against UNC Asheville (3-7, 0-1 Big South). The match will begin at 1 p.m. at the Cook Tennis Center.
Liberty 4, Gardner-Webb 3 Singles competition 1. SCHOLL, Maximilian (GWU18M) def. MATHESON, Sam (LIBERTYM) 7-5, 6-1 2. HURRION, Millen (GWU18M) def. GUTIERREZ, Eddie (LIBERTYM) 6-4, 6-4 3. HOGAN, Paul (GWU18M) def. BURTON, Chase (LIBERTYM) 6-4, 6-4 4. SALAS, Vince (LIBERTYM) def. PUGA, Stefano (GWU18M) 3-6, 7-5, 6-1 5. POYNTER, Alex (LIBERTYM) def. SCHMIDT, Adam (GWU18M) 6-2, 6-3 6. CASTANO, Diego (LIBERTYM) def. PLENTZ, Breno (GWU18M) 6-2, 3-6, 7-5
Doubles competition 1. SCHOLL, Maximilian/HURRION, Millen (GWU18M) def. GUTIERREZ, Eddie/SALAS, Vince (LIBERTYM) 6-0 2. POYNTER, Alex/CASTANO, Diego (LIBERTYM) def. FORS, Johan/HOGAN, Paul (GWU18M) 6-2 3. MATHESON, Sam/BURTON, Chase (LIBERTYM) def. PLENTZ, Breno/GILBERT, Ross (GWU18M) 6-3
Order of finish: Doubles (1,3,2); Singles (3,5,1,2,6,4) Official: A Sarver/L Krulick T-2:44