DURHAM, N.C. - No. 17 South Carolina could not shake off a sluggish start in a 4-0 loss to No. 53 UNC Wilmington in NCAA Tournament first-round action at Ambler Tennis Stadium. The Gamecocks (18-11) saw the Seahawks (19-4) carry the momentum from their 10-match win streak, including a conference tournament title, into Friday morning's match, as they jumped out to an early lead in doubles and kept the pressure on throughout singles.
Doubles was a battle from the opening serve with nearly all of the first five games on every court going to deuce. The Seahawks were undaunted by the Gamecocks' ranked tandems at the top of the order, though, and captured the critical points to post 8-2 wins in both the Nos. 1 and 2 contests to establish the early 1-0 lead in the match.
South Carolina looked to change the pace in singles, but the Seahawks were able to edge out to early service breaks in three of the six matches. Junior Chip Cox shook of his early break to take control of his first set with a pair of late breaks to defeat Kosta Blank 6-2 in the first set at the No. 5 spot. The top of the lineup featured the sole ranked matchup as No. 31 Tsvetan Mihov took on No. 54 Rafael Aita. The Seahawks' junior jumped out to an early 3-0 lead, cruising to a 6-2 first-set victory just ahead of Zach Hublitz posting a 6-3 first-set win over Harry Menzies in the No.6 match.
In the No. 3 match, Thiago Pinheiro and Sam Williams were trading service breaks throughout the first set with Williams managing just his third hold of the set in the final game to win it 6-4. No 81 Andrew Adams was in the opposite match with Chris Cooprider in the No. 2 spot with the two leveling off after trading early breaks to stay on serve through 5-5. Cooprider managed to crack through Adams' serve for a 6-5 lead and closed out the set 7-5 to keep the momentum up for UNC Wilmington. Kyle Koch hoped to turn the tide in the No. 4 match against Kaue Pereira, using blistering returns late in the tiebreak to win his first set 7-6 (4).
Back at the top of the order, Mihov was matching Aita in the second set, but continued to struggle atypically with unforced errors. Mihov forced a tiebreak in the set and fought back from a 4-1 deficit to get even at 4-4. Aita responded with the next three points, including a backhand up the line on match point for the 7-6 (4) win to put the Seahawks up 2-0.
While Mihov was trying to rally, Cox dropped his second set to Blank 6-2 and was opening third-set action. The Seahawks were up a break in the second sets on three other courts, and were quickly closing in on the victory. Menzies shook off a tough start to his second set with Hublitz to stay on serve through eight games, only to see the sophomore win the next two games for a 6-4 win, giving UNC Wilmington a 3-0 advantage.
On Court 2, Adams was fighting to hang on. Having already gotten one of his two service breaks back, he was on the verge of another a 3-4, but Cooprider battled back to hold on for a 5-3 lead, which he maintained to close the set 6-4 and clinch the team victory.
South Carolina ends its season with 18 victories, the most for the program since the 2005 posted 20. Mihov and Cox will continue on in the NCAA Individual Championships in Urbana, Ill., which are set to begin on May 22. The two will play doubles, while Mihov will also participate in the singles championship.
#53 UNC Wilmington 4, #17 South Carolina 0
Doubles (Order of Finish: 1, 2)
1. Chris Cooprider/Kosta Blank (UNCW) def. (17) Chip Cox/Tsvetan Mihov (SC) 8-2
2. Rafael Aita/Sam Williams (UNCW) def. (39) Kyle Koch/Harry Menzies (SC) 8-2
3. Santtu Leskinen/Kaue Pereira (UNCW) led Thiago Pinheiro/Andrew Adams (SC) 6-5 suspended
Singles (Order of Finish: 1, 6, 2)
1. (54) Rafael Aita (UNCW) def. (31) Tsvetan Mihov (SC) 6-2, 7-6 (4)
2. Chris Cooprider (UNCW) def. (81) Andrew Adams (SC) 7-5, 6-4
3. Sam Williams (UNCW) led Thiago Pinheiro (SC) 6-4, 4-3 suspended
4. Kyle Koch (SC) led Kaue Pereira (UNCW) 7-6 (4), 4-5 suspended
5. Kosta Blank (UNCW) led Chip Cox (SC) 2-6, 6-2, 2-1 suspended
6. Zach Hublitz (UNC) def. Harry Menzies (SC) 6-3, 6-4
-- www.GamecocksOnline.com --