With just four matches left, Ball State Men’s Tennis (10-9, 2-5 MAC) had a must-win match ahead of them Friday. The Mid-American Conference (MAC) Tournament takes only the top four teams. Coming into the day, the Cardinals stood a game-and-a-half behind the Buffalo Bulls for that coveted No. 4 spot. They had to start making up ground.
The unfortunate part is that the match was against the number one team in the conference, the Western Michigan Broncos (11-8, 7-1 MAC), who also happen to have won the last four MAC Tournament championships. The two teams faced off on March 17 in Muncie, where the Broncos won 5-2. Trying to avenge a loss, and capture such an important match against a team like this is something head coach Bill Richards knows isn’t easy.
“They (Western Michigan) have good players. That’s what it all comes down to,” Richards said. “They are a very talented team, they compete well, and they do all the right things that teams that win championships have.”
Early on, Ball State seemed up for the challenge, though. After losing on court three, the Cardinals first and second doubles teams both entered a tiebreak. Second-year Nathaniel Webster and first-year Danilo Kovacevic came through, and won their tiebreak 7-2. Fourth-year’s Vince Orlando and Eli Herran were on court two, but couldn’t do enough to give Ball State the point. They lost the tiebreak 7-3.
“In general, they probably just served better than we did,” Richards said on losing in doubles. “We still really should’ve won the doubles point.”
Singles play saw Western Michigan use the momentum from the doubles point. They got to four points rather quickly, as Orlando, Kovacevic, and third-year Sajin Smith were all defeated. Before they could really get anything going, the match was decided.
The lone win for the Cardinals came from Herran in his singles match, where he used a third set tiebreak to win by a score of 5-7, 6-1, 10-3. He’s won five of his last six matches, with the last three all going to third sets or a third set tiebreaker. Richards has been pleased with his consistency this year.
“He’s been very consistent in his performance all year. We call him ‘Mr. Dependable,’” Richards said. “After every match he wins I text him and say ‘hey I don’t take you for granted, appreciate you.’ He’s the one guy you pretty much know what you’re going to get out of every match.”
In first singles, Webster couldn’t recover from losing a first set tiebreaker, and lost by a score of 7-6 (7-3), 6-2. On court six, first-year Broc Fletcher had a marathon third-set tiebreak that he couldn’t pull out. He lost 2-6, 6-4, 17-15, giving Western Michigan a 6-1 win.
It would’ve been an extremely important and impressive win for Ball State had they pulled it off. They now sit two games back of Buffalo for the last spot in the conference tournament. The Bulls have a match Saturday against winless Binghamton, which in all likelihood means the Cardinals will be two-and-a-half games back before their next match Sunday. They have a head-to-head matchup with Buffalo coming later in the season, but will now need some help from other teams if they want to get into the postseason. The clock is ticking on Ball State’s season, and they’ll get ready for another must-win match Sunday against Northern Illinois, with first serve coming at 1 p.m. in DeKalb, Illinois.