Slow start sparks 2nd-match victory as Cardinals split doubleheader at Notre Dame

<p>Head coach Bill Richards talks to his team to get them ready for the singles matches against the University of Toledo at the Northwest YMCA in Muncie on March 24. Ball State won 5-2. <strong>Eric Pritchett, DN</strong></p>

Head coach Bill Richards talks to his team to get them ready for the singles matches against the University of Toledo at the Northwest YMCA in Muncie on March 24. Ball State won 5-2. Eric Pritchett, DN

It had been nearly 10 months since Ball State Men’s Tennis stepped on the court against an opponent, so it was to be expected the Cardinals would look a little rusty going into their doubleheader against Notre Dame — a team that already had two games under its belt. 

While the rust clearly showed in the Cardinals’ first match of the day against the Fighting Irish — much like when WD-40 is applied to a metal bike lock — that rust quickly faded a few short hours later.

Throughout the first match, the Cardinals struggled in nearly every matchup, with only the doubles team of freshman Sajin Smith and junior Danilo Kovacevic winning by a score of 6-4 at No. 3 doubles. The team of senior Chris Adams/ sophomore Vince Orlando and junior Thibault De Negri/sophomore Parrish Simmons lost their respective doubles matches by the same score.

The singles matches showed just how rusty the Cardinals were, with the Irish earning sweeps in four of the six matches and winning a fifth point in a match (7-5, 0-6, 0-1) between Irish sophomore Matthew Halpin and Orlando that went Notre Dame’s way in three sets.

At the end of the first match, the Irish had won 6-1 and had all the momentum going into the two-hour break.

But, by the time play resumed for the second match of the day at 4:15 p.m., the Cardinals came out shining and rust free.

In doubles play, the first two teams of Adams/Orlando and De Negri/Simmons remained the same, but the third team of Smith and Kovacevic was swapped out in favor of senior Bryce Bonin and sophomore Eli Herran. While De Negri and Simmons fell in their second doubles match of the day, Adams/Orlando and Bonin/Herran earned 6-4 and 6-1 wins, respectively, giving the Cardinals the first point of the match that later proved crucial.

The Irish won the first two singles matches of the second match at No. 1 and No. 6 singles with Kovacevic (3-6, 2-6) and Bonin (2-6, 0-6) falling in straight sets in their matches. Ball State later tied and eventually took a 3-2 lead when Herran (6-4, 6-1) and Simmons (6-2, 6-3) each earned singles wins on court five and six, respectively.

On court two, Notre Dame’s sophomore Connor Fu took a (6-3, 6-5) victory over Orlando to tie the match up at three apiece. 

All eyes then turned to court three as the Cardinals' freshman Sajin Smith was locked into a battle with Notre Dame graduate student Matt Gamble — where the winner would decide the winning team.

Smith had already taken the first set 6-3 while Gamble came back to take the second 6-2. It was the only matchup of the second match to go three sets. With each point that was scored, either sideline jumped up and down and rooted on his teammate as everything was at stake. The two traded sets and were tied 4-4 until Smith exploded to win two straight sets and the match for his team (6-3, 2-6, 6-4). 

The win marked Ball State's first over Notre Dame since 2007. The Cardinals will attempt to earn their next two wins of the season when they travel to Cleveland State Jan. 30-31, and it is certain that preseason rust has all but gone away.

Contact Evan Weaver with comments at or on Twitter @evan_weaver7.


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