Friday was the second time in three weeks that Ball State (10-8, 2-4 MAC) and the Toledo Rockets (11-5, 3-2 MAC) matched up. The Rockets took the first match on March 11 by a score of 4-3. The Cardinals were looking to make some adjustments and pick up a quality road win. After losing once again by the same score to the same team, it’s another close match that the team let slip away.
“It’s just frustrating because we’re not winning big points when we need to,” head coach Bill Richards said.
A big point in the match Friday was when the fourth-year tandem of Abe Wojtalik and Parrish Simmons were up 5-4 and had a match point. Having already picked up a win on court two from fourth-years Vince Orlando and Eli Herran, Ball State was hoping to put the pressure on Toledo early, but couldn’t. The Rockets fended off the match point and went on to take the next three games, winning 7-5, and giving Toledo the doubles point.
After such a crushing blow to start the match, the Cardinals had a rough time catching back up to speed. After Orlando and Kovacevic couldn’t make much noise on courts two and three, Ball State found themselves down 3-0.
“After you lose a tough doubles point, and have two guys off the court so quickly to give them a 3-0 lead, you have the deck stacked against you,” Richards said.
Toledo’s fourth point came in the first singles match, where Nathaniel Webster lost in three sets. But the Cardinals did what they could to dig themselves out of the hole. Herran took a three-setter 6-4, 6-2, 6-4, and third-year Sajin Smith used a third-set tiebreak to win 4-6, 7-6 (7-5) 10-8.
Freshman Broc Fletcher stepped into the sixth singles slot and came away with a huge 6-4, 7-6 (7-2) win in just his second college match. Richards believes he is capable of producing for the team going forward, and was happy he stepped in to contribute.
“Broc has got the heart of a lion,” Richards said. “He’s been doing all the right things, waiting for his opportunity. The way things worked out, we made the decision to throw him in there today, and he took advantage of his opportunity.”
This is the fourth time this year that the Cardinals have lost by a score of 4-3. In a sport that has such a small margin for error, there have been close matches on all courts, all year for Ball State. Richards says certain things will get exposed if you're not prepared for high-pressure points.
“Weaknesses show up in pressure situations,” Richards said. “If you’re going to have breakdowns on your serve or your forehand, it’s going to stick out like a sore thumb in pressure situations.”
Pressure situations have been the theme of this team all year. At times they’ve come through in them, and at others, they haven’t. It’s led them to a point where they have their backs against the wall and a 2-4 record in the conference. They have work to do if they want to make the Mid-American Conference (MAC) tournament.
“You can feel sorry for yourself, or you can be very very angry, and come out competing harder and working harder. We’ll see which direction they go,” Richards said.
Ball State returns to action Friday against Western Michigan, with the match starting at 1 p.m.