In 13 matches last season, the Cardinals (4-1 MAC) held a 1-2 record in matches decided by a score of 4-3. In 2019, the Cardinals were 3-1 in those matches at the conclusion of the season.
Now, five matches into 2021, Ball State is 4-0 in matches with a 4-3 margin — thanks in part to Friday’s victory over Xavier.
“You know, I've been doing this for a long time, and I can't remember ever having played four matches in a row that came down to a last match-on situation,” head coach Bill Richards said. “And then, of course to win all four of them is just really great. I’m happy for our guys and very, very proud of them.”
The Cardinals came into the match with a four-match win streak over the Musketeers, hoping to increase it to five.
“We're two teams that are just pretty evenly matched every year, and for whatever reason, we've been able to win the close ones.” Richards said. “I don't think they're any more of a rival than many other teams on our schedule, but we know every time we play them it's going to be a dogfight. We'll see them again on March 7, and I'm sure they're looking forward to it.”
Through four matches, the Cardinals had only won the doubles point once this season, which came in their second match against Notre Dame. Their issues did not change for the better today against Xavier, as Ball State lost its fourth doubles point this season.
The team of junior Thibault De Negri and sophomore Parrish Simmons defeated Xavier’s team of Brett Winters and Cambell Nakayama at No. 2 doubles 6-4, putting the Cardinals in position to win the match’s first point.
For Ball State, though, that was the only doubles match they won. The teams of senior Chris Adams and sophomore Vince Orlando (4-6) and junior Danilo Kovacevic and senior Bryce Bonin (6-7) lost their respective matches at No. 1 and No. 3 doubles.
“I'm not really pushing any panic buttons with regard to doubles,” Richards said. “I don’t think we’re just going to start all over again with different teams right now or anything like that. We just haven't converted in some situations that we need to win big points in doubles. We’re just going to continue to try to make those parts of our game.”
Much like its previous two matches against Cleveland State, however, Ball State came back from losing the first point and won four singles matches to take the victory. The singles matches weren’t without drama, though.
When the Cardinals won a match on singles to tie Xavier, the Musketeers would retake the lead by winning the next point.
However, sophomore Eli Herran was the first to get the Cardinals on the board, winning his No. 6 singles match in straight sets (6-4, 6-3).
After Xavier won the following point to lead 2-1, junior Thibault de Negri tied the match back up after winning his first singles match of the season — right after winning his first doubles this year, too — in straight sets (7-6, 6-3). De Negri had been 0-7 in both singles and doubles prior to his two victories today.
“[de Negri’s] perseverance has stood out to me,” Richards said. “He's had a great attitude and just persevered through some tough losses. In his first match against Notre Dame, he got hurt. He's actually been playing very well. He hasn't gotten frustrated or discouraged with the losses he's taken, and he came up huge for us today when we really needed that win to get one of our four points.”
Xavier’s Matthew Graft won his match at No. 5 singles over freshman Sajin Smith in straight sets (5-7, 4-6), giving the Musketeers a 3-2 lead. This meant the Cardinals would have to come back from a point down and win the last two matches.
Once Adams earned his victory at No. 3 singles in straight sets (6-4, 6-2) and tied the match at three, it was up to Orlando to play the role of hero for the Cardinals this time.
At No. 4 singles, Orlando won his first set 7-5 before dropping the second to Xavier’s Srdan Pejic, forcing the day’s only tiebreaking third set. The set was close early on, until Orlando pulled two games ahead and ultimately won the third set and the match for Ball State (7-5, 4-6, 6-3).
“All the guys that won their singles matches did a great job,” Richards said. “And Vince Orlando, with all the pressure, he held up really well late in his third set when he became the last match on.”
The Cardinals continue their homestand next Friday, Feb. 12, facing Eastern Illinois (1-0 OVC).