Ball State sweeps Eastern Illinois, extends win streak to 4 matches

<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 a year since the Cardinals recorded a perfect match — March 1, 2020, to be exact. That was when they recorded back-to-back sweeps of IU Southeast in a doubleheader.

That changed Friday, as the Cardinals played as near a perfect match in their 7-0 victory against Eastern Illinois.

“It feels good to not have to sweat it out and kind of be in control of the match from start to finish,” head coach Bill Richards said. “We obviously haven't had one of those this year because everyone's been right down to the final match.”

Before Friday’s match, the Cardinals had only won one doubles point this season, back on Jan. 20 in their second match against Notre Dame. After the last match with Xavier, Richards said despite dedicating greater time in practice on doubles, he was not hitting the panic button this early in the season.

However, it was evident that Ball State put more practice into its doubles game. The teams of sophomore Vince Orlando and senior Chris Adams, as well as freshman Sajin Smith and sophomore Abe Wojtalik took early leads and never looked back in their respective wins (6-3, 6-1) at No. 1 and No. 3 doubles. 

“We worked hard on doubles throughout the week,” Richards said. “Today's matches were a little bit different, and we made sure that some of our guys that haven't been playing doubles got some playing time today. I think everyone responded very well, and things went our way in doubles today.”

The No. 2 doubles match featuring sophomores Eli Herran and Parrish Simmons of Ball State and Eastern Illinois, respectively, went unfinished. However, the pair fought back from a 5-2 deficit, tying their match at five when the doubles point was called for the Cardinals.

“I thought we got a little flat at times,” Richards said, “and didn't keep our emotion up. Doubles is very much an energy thing with those short, single sets and no-ad scoring. It's a very quick match, and I thought we got a little discouraged and Eastern [Illinois] played extremely well."

The Cardinals’ doubles success transitioned into singles success, with every player earning 2-0 victories — making for a short outing. Senior Bryce Bonin earned the first singles point by winning his match at No. 5 singles (6-2, 6-1), followed by Wojtalik, who made his season debut at No. 6 singles (6-3, 6-0).

“Abe is a very hard worker and very motivated just like all of our guys are,” Richards said, “This match today gave us an opportunity to get some extra guys in there and give them a little bit of match experience...[In tennis], you either play or you don't, so for the guys that aren't starters on our team, it's hard to find playing time for them. Fortunately, we were able to do that today.”

Junior Thibault de Negri guaranteed Ball State’s victory at No. 1 singles (6-2, 6-4) with his win. Victories from Smith, junior Danilo Kovacevic and sophomore Vince Orlando in their respective matches gave the Cardinals the eventual sweep of the Panthers.

Ball State has now won five consecutive matches, improving its record to 5-1. The team will return to the court Feb. 24 against Chicago State, with first serve set for 2 p.m.

“On Sunday, we’ll regroup and look ahead to the next week and a half of practice.” Richards said. “And that's just going to be up to every individual on our team to keep coming to practice, working hard and not get complacent just because we don't have a match coming up this next weekend.”

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

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