April 22, 2004
NASHVILLE, Tenn. – For the second time in three years, South Carolina (15-12) avenged a regular season defeat in the first round of the Southeastern Conference Tournament, only this time winning in a thriller with a 4-3 come-from-behind, upset victory over the host and seventh-seeded Vanderbilt Commodores (14-11), Thursday. The win marked Carolina’s fifth win over a ranked opponent this season as the Gamecocks will take on yet another Friday, facing second-seeded and seventh-ranked Florida at 1:15 p.m. (CT) at the Brownlee O. Curry Tennis Center.
“It is incredibly tough to have to play the home team, especially when they are higher ranked,” said Carolina Head Coach Kent DeMars. “I knew it was going to be an uphill battle. I got on them after the doubles because I didn’t think we were playing particularly well at that point. However, we saw Mississippi State come from behind and top a higher seeded Tennessee team and I knew we could do it.”
The match initially began at 3:14 p.m. CT with doubles competition and lasted for 20 minutes before rain sent the remainder of the first day of the tournament indoors. After a two hour and 16 minute delay for Tennessee and Mississippi State to conclude their match indoors, Carolina and Vanderbilt resumed their match.
South Carolina fell behind early as Vanderbilt took the doubles point from the Gamecocks. Tom Eklund and Marcus Westman fell to Zach Dailey and Lew Smith at No. 2 doubles, 8-3. Ben Atkinson and Carl Wermee led before the rain delay, 2-0, but eventually fell 8-5 to give VU the Commodores the 1-0 lead on the match.
Vanderbilt took a 2-0 lead as Geraldo Knorr fell 6-2, 6-1 to 96th-ranked Matt Lockin at No. 4 singles. Carolina then stormed back in the match with a pair of wins over ranked opponents. At No. 3 singles, Carl Wermee edged out Vanderbilt’s 74th-ranked Scott Brown in a pair of identical tiebreakers, 7-6 (3), 7-6 (3). Immediately following Wermee’s victory, Tom Eklund notched a win at No. 2 singles over 101st-ranked Zach Dailey, 2-6, 6-2, 6-4, making the match tied at two.
The Commodores fought back, taking a 3-2 lead as 23rd-ranked Chad Harris defeated Carolina’s Marcus Westman, 7-6 (3), 6-3, at No. 1 singles. Carolina refused to lay down, however, as Ben Atkinson edged out Lew Smith 7-5, 2-6, 6-4 in a three-set thriller at No. 5 singles.
“I gathered a lot of confidence when I saw Carl [Wermee] and Tom [Eklund] win,” said Atkinson. “I knew if I could hold serve, I could win. It was fun playing in front of a large, loud crowd. A lot of people counted us out of that match, but we didn’t care what they thought. We knew we could win.”
Everything came down to No. 6 singles which pitted two freshmen against each other – the Brasilia, Brazil-native Pedro Rodrigues for Carolina and the Alpharetta, Ga.-native Nathan Sachs for Vanderbilt. Sachs took a quick 4-1 lead in set one, but Rodrigues stormed back on a five game win streak to win the first set, 6-4. Rodrigues then took a quick 4-1 lead in the second set, but Sachs followed suit with a rally of his own, taking the 5-4 lead. However, Rodrigues forced the tiebreaker and fell in the tiebreaker 5-3 but rallied to win the tiebreaker 7-5 for the 6-4, 7-6 (5) victory and the 4-3 match win.
“It feels really good to get that win,” said Rodrigues. “It’s been hard adjusting from Brazil to South Carolina and I’ve definitely have had some trouble adjusting. I was down 4-1 and I just decided to play the type of game I usually played in Brazil. For us it was a great victory. I lost focus for a while because all of the other matches were done and all of a sudden, there was a lot of attention on my court.”
10th-seeded South Carolina now advances to face the second-seeded Gators of Florida on Friday at 1:15 p.m. (CT).
“We’ve got a good, positive drive going right now and we’re just going to try and ride it,” said DeMars. “We need to go out and keep this momentum going.”