Men's tennis season comes to an end in semifinals of MAC Tournament

Graduate student Danilo Kovacevic swinging through a shot. Ball State Athletics, photo courtesy
Graduate student Danilo Kovacevic swinging through a shot. Ball State Athletics, photo courtesy

In a season where Ball State Men’s Tennis (13-11, 5-5 MAC) has had to constantly come from behind, Saturday’s Mid-American Conference (MAC) tournament semifinals looked like it was shaping up to be a change of pace for the team. 

The Cardinals were facing off against the Western Michigan Broncos (14-9, 8-2 MAC), a program that has won the last four MAC titles. 

In doubles, senior Parrish Simmons and freshman Jacks Lancaster lost 6-2 on court three, but seniors Vince Orlando and Eli Herran won their match on court two by a score of 6-4. With the point tied at one, court one looked like it was going to go in the Cardinals favor. They were up 4-3 with graduate student Danilo Kovacevic and sophomore Nathaniel Webster serving. According to head coach Bill Richards, that’s when Webster went for a wide ball and turned his ankle. He took an injury timeout, and after getting his ankle taped up, hobbled around to finish the doubles point, which they lost 7-5. 

“We almost won it ( the doubles point) even though he couldn’t walk,” Richards said. “Dan (Kovacevic) pretty much had to play singles out there. Webster finished the one game, and ended up getting broke on a no-ad point. He had to serve another game serving underhanded. It was unfortunate to say the least.”

Once singles started, Webster tried to give it a go in warmups, but the injury was just too much to overcome. Richards had to shift the lineup around after that, and everyone had to move up one spot. Lancaster filled in at sixth singles. It’s frustrating to have to change the matchups that the entire team was focused on all week. What’s even more frustrating for Richards though, is the fact that one of his players didn’t get the chance to compete in the biggest match of the year.

“I especially feel bad for Nathaniel. He was really juiced for this match, as our whole team was,” Richards said. “There’s not much you can say. It happens, and everybody has to try and play that much better”

Teams don’t play until all of the matches are finished once the postseason comes around. Once you earn your four points, the match ends. But once Ball State dropped their first sets across the board, it proved to be too much to come back from. 

All of the singles losses for the Cardinals came from the bottom half of the singles ladder. Third-year Sajin Smith couldn’t put much of anything together on the fourth singles court, as he lost 6-1, 6-0. Freshman Broc Fletcher almost forced a first set tiebreak on court five, but lost 7-5, 6-3. Lastly, Lancaster, on short notice, gave a good effort on court six, but dropped his match 6-3, 6-4.

“Crazy things happen. Until that (Webster Injury)  happened, I liked our chances. We had a good chance to win the doubles point, I liked our matchups in singles,” Richards said. “We competed well.”The other courts saw mostly first set scores that were close, and second set scores that were either tied or in Ball State’s favor. In the end, it was a 4-0 win for the Broncos. 

There’s no doubt that Ball State still put up a valiant effort, despite the unfortunate injury to Webster. This team suffered a number of close losses throughout the year, and had to dig themselves out of a hole for most of the conference season. Because of that, Richards will remember this team for a couple of different reasons. 

“We played a tough schedule. [We] had a very good ‘pre-MAC’ season, [and] got off to a rough start in the conference losing a bunch of 4-3 matches, but we rebounded to do what we had to do to get in the tournament,” Richards said. “I’ll have good thoughts about this team and good thoughts about this season.”

Contact Caleb Zuver with comments at cmzuver@bsu.edu or on Twitter @zuves35

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