Photo by Tyler Lamb / Sports Editor
The fourth-seeded Middle Tennessee Blue Raider men’s tennis team was back in action on Saturday against the top-seeded Rice Owls in the Conference USA Tournament. After a long day with battles in every set, the Owls walked away with a 4-2 victory.
The Owls took the doubles point by taking both the no.1 and 2 doubles matches by a score of 6-4. Gian Issa and Miguel Negre shined in doubles action for Middle Tennessee, as they took a victory on court no.3 by a score of 6-2.
— Rusty Ellis (@RustyEllis13) April 22, 2017
That was as good as it would get for the Blue Raiders in doubles action however, as Tom Moonen and Gonzalo Morell fell to Rice’s David Warren and Tommy Bennett, the 50th ranked doubles pair in the country.
Max Rauch and Nicolas Buitrago fell by the same score to Jake Hansen and Eric Rutledge to give Rice the early 1-0 lead.
Issa and Luis Diaz each didn’t fare much better in singles action, as they each fell in straight sets to give Rice a commanding 3-0 lead.
Morell helped the Raiders start the comeback attempt, winning in straight sets on court no.1 by a score of 6-2, 7-5.
Rauch got off to a much better start in singles action by taking the first set against Emanuel Llamas by a score of 6-2. After falling in the second set by the same margin, he dug deep and took a quick 2-0 lead in the deciding set.
He continued a dominant effort, taking a commanding 5-2 lead in the third set. Rauch sealed the deal and closed the gap to 3-2 with a 6-2, 2-6, 6-2 victory.
Negre became the last chip to fall however, losing in a two-set tiebreaker on court three to give Rice the 4-2 victory. Moonen’s match was in reach but went unfinished when Negre was defeated.
Even with the tough loss to end the year, there were plenty of bright spots. Rauch and Morell gave the Blue Raiders a chance to comeback and both were pleased with their performances.
For Rauch, it all came down to just focusing on what he could control.
“Coach told me to just stay strong and focus on my court. I think I did well,” Rauch said. “[I had to] focus every point and after I won, I could push the other guys.”
Morell’s match didn’t have the drama that Rauch’s did, but he still gave the team a morality boost when they needed it most.
“That was one of the best matches I’ve played this season,” Morell said. “I think I [gave] a good performance.”
While the players have played incredibly different roles, both have been instrumental to the team’s success this year.
“[Rauch] is really young, even for being a freshman…some of the best hands and touch I’ve ever seen,” Head coach Jimmy Borendame said. “[Gonzalo] is just a rock, I know I can put him at one or two and know he’s going to be a tough out.”
This is a team that will return everyone next year. Keeping that in mind, coach Borendame is excited for the future of the Middle Tennessee program.
“This whole team is coming back, I don’t think I’ve ever had that in my career,” Borendame said. “I told them to walk out of here with their heads held high. We had a great crowd today…I cannot wait for the first day of school already.”
“I’m ready to get going again.”
Final box score
— Cody Strickler (@CodyStricklerSL) April 22, 2017