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Flames Outlast Aztecs, 5-2, on Wednesday Night

March 21, 2018  San Diego, Calif.   RSS
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Matheson (left) and Burton (center) won as a doubles unit, and each player won his respective singles match at SDSU on Wednesday.

Matheson (left) and Burton (center) won as a doubles unit, and each player won his respective singles match at SDSU on Wednesday.

In a contest which featured five three-set singles matches, the Liberty Flames men's tennis team outlasted the host San Diego State Aztecs, 5-2, on Wednesday evening at the Aztec Tennis Center.

The Flames are now 11-8 on the season following a win in their final non-conference bout of the season, while Liberty closes out its spring break trip to California with a 2-1 mark. The Aztecs fall to 2-14 with the setback to Liberty.

"We played hard as a team from start to finish. It was an awesome team match," said Liberty Men's Tennis Head Coach Derek Schwandt. "We have a long way to go, so it's important for us to stay hungry and stay humble."

Five singles matches required three sets to decide the outcome (No. 2-6). Sophomore Chase Burton's come-from-behind victory on court three over his competitor, Ignacio Martinez, was the deciding fourth team point. Burton fell, 6-4, in the first set before winning a second-set tiebreaker (7-6 (5)) and then dominating the third set, 6-1, with four of his teammates also battling in third sets.

Burton trailed, 5-4, in the second set as well before eventually landing in a tiebreaker, which he led, 4-0, at the onset. However, Martinez clawed back to within 6-5 prior to Burton shutting the door with a big, unreturnable serve (7-5) and carrying the momentum into the final set. The Naples, Fla., native's victory (4-6, 7-6 (5), 6-1) brought the team score to 4-2 at the time.

Just a few minutes later, the Flames' Diego Castano won in a dramatic third-set tiebreaker in the No. 6 singles match. Castano and his opponent, SDSU's Joel Popov, traded sets before Popov took a 6-5 lead in the third set and had a 40-15 lead.

The Liberty senior showed resolve, staving off defeat and eventually taking it to a tiebreaker against Popov. Popov was up, 6-4, and had match points to close out Castano once again. However, Castano evened the tiebreaker at 6-6 and claimed the final two points to take the match, 6-4, 2-6, 7-6 (6). His victory, which improved his No. 6 singles record to 12-3 on the spring, settled the final score at 5-2 in favor of the Flames.

The Flames' other match victories came from senior Sam Matheson (No. 1 singles) and junior Eddie Gutierrez (No. 2 singles) in the top of the Liberty lineup. Matheson's match against Sander Gjoels-Anderson on court one was the only one that went just two sets. The Tauranga, New Zealand, native never trailed in the match, winning easily (6-2, 6-1). His triumph made it 2-0 Flames at the time.

Gutierrez and SDSU's Arnaud Restifo each took a set by a 6-4 count before their third set. Gutierrez held a lead throughout the final set on the way to winning, 6-2, to claim his 21st singles triumph of the year (6-4, 4-6, 6-2). The Mexico City, Mexico, native's win made it 3-1 Flames at the time.  Gutierrez now holds an impressive 7-2 record in three-set matches, this spring.

SDSU's two points on the evening came courtesy of Rafael de la Torre in three-set fashion over Poynter (No. 5 singles) and Jan Kirchhoff in three sets over the Flames' Vince Salas (No. 4 singles) . The Aztec junior (de la Torre) erased a one-set deficit to emerge victorious, 3-6, 6-4, 6-2.

Kirchhoff trailed Salas, 5-4, and 40-15 in the third set but battled back to win the match, 4-6, 6-3, 7-5.

Liberty won the doubles point from San Diego State, taking matches on courts three and one, in that order. The Flames' No. 3 unit of Burton and Matheson dominated their match against the Aztecs' Martinez and Rafael Gonzalez Almazan, winning 6-2.

SDSU's No. 1 and No. 2 duos had leads in their matches in the early stages, but Liberty's top duo of Castano and Poynter flipped the script in their match with Gjoels-Anderson and Nicholas Mitchell. SDSU's pairing led, 3-2, before Castano and Poynter held serve and then broke serve to go ahead, 4-3.

After trading the next two games to bring the score to 5-4 (Liberty), Castano served the Flames to victory in the next game. The Flames built up a 40-0 lead, and Poynter put away the match with an overhead volley. Castano and Poynter's win was their team-best 10th in doubles in the spring.

Big South co-leader Liberty (3-0 BSC) will return home to face the Radford Highlanders (7-4, 0-1 BSC) on Saturday afternoon in Lynchburg at 2 p.m.

Liberty 5, San Diego State 2
Singles competition

2. GUTIERREZ, Eddie (LIBERTYM) def. RESTIFO, Arnaud (SDSU) 6-4, 4-6, 6-2
3. BURTON, Chase (LIBERTYM) def. MARTINEZ, Ignacio (SDSU) 4-6, 7-6 (7-5), 6-1
4. KIRCHHOFF, Jan (SDSU) def. SALAS, Vince (LIBERTYM) 6-4, 3-6, 7-5
5. GONZALEZ ALMAZAN, R (SDSU) def. POYNTER, Alex (LIBERTYM) 3-6, 6-4, 6-2
6. CASTANO, Diego (LIBERTYM) def. POPOV, Joel (SDSU) 6-4, 2-6, 7-6 (8-6)

Doubles competition

Order of finish: Doubles (3,1); Singles (1,5,2,4,3,6) T-3:02