April 22, 2005
Athens, Ga. – The USC Gamecock tennis team rallied back from 3-1 down, but fell just short in their bid to reach the school’s second SEC semifinal, losing 4-2 to fifth seeded Tennessee on Friday evening in Athens, Ga. The fourth seed in the tournament, Carolina (18-9, 6-5 SEC) dropped the doubles point before the match was moved indoors due to severe weather in the Athens area. Tennessee (13-7, 6-5 SEC) would clinch the match with a win at No. 5 singles after a four hour and 45 minute marathon.
With the previous quarterfinal match between LSU and Ole Miss still playing the deciding point on court two, Carolina and UT agreed to begin the doubles point on the vacant courts four through six. Tennessee came out swinging, earning service breaks on courts five and six in the third games, and didn’t look back at No. 3 doubles, as Bobby Cameron and Kaden Hensel defeated USC’s Ben Atkinson and Dmitry Babenko 8-2. The Gamecocks’ Tom Eklund and Jaime Cuellar stayed on serve the remainder of the match, but dropped just their third SEC match of the year, falling 8-6 to Mark Dietrich and Morgan Wilson at No. 2 doubles. Sophomore Pedro Rodrigues and Geraldo Knorr were tied at five all at No. 1 doubles with the 11th-ranked pair of Ockie Oosthuizen and Ben Rogers when the match was suspended.
Carolina would get on the board with Dmitry Babenko’s straight sets, 6-4, 6-4 win over Morgan Wilson at No. 4 singles, but dropped matches at Nos. 1 and 2 singles to go down 3-1 to the Volunteers. Jaime Cuellar would earn Carolina’s final point at No. 3 singles in typical Cuellar fashion, after he was down a break at 5-3, Ockie Oosthuizen double faulted three time in game nine of the final set to give Cuellar his break back. Cuellar then served at 4-5 and was down a total of three match points in that game before battling back to hold serve and level the scores. In game ten, the El Salvadorian freshman broke the Volunteers’ sophomore and then held serve in the final game to clinch yet another come from behind third set win at No. 3 singles. With the match now 3-2 UT, Atkinson and Knorr were the only Gamecocks left on court. Atkinson had won his first set at No. 6 singles and was headed to a second set tiebreaker, but Knorr couldn’t hang on at No. 5 and dropped the third set 6-0, giving the Volunteers a 4-2 win and a bid to Saturday’s semifinals against Ole Miss.
The 18th-ranked Gamecocks will return to Columbia and await a bid to what would be their 12th consecutive appearance in the NCAA Tournament. Stay tuned to www.uscsports.com for information as it becomes available.