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Feb. 20, 2013

COLUMBIA, S.C. – No. 48 South Carolina held off a late charge from No. 37 UNC Wilmington to score a 4-3 victory in men’s tennis action Wednesday afternoon. With the Gamecocks (8-3) leading 3-2, the last two matches on court were late in their third sets with neither team able to seize control. South Carolina senior Harry Menzies pushed through a series of late service breaks and a misfire on his first match point to deliver on his second opportunity to close out Zach Hublitz in the No. 6 match to deliver the Gamecock victory. Not to be lost in the late-match heroics was the first win of the contest, which Chip Cox and Tsvetan Mihov scored over the nation’s No. 8 doubles team.

“We made a good adjustment from our last match and came out of the gates hot, especially in going from doubles to singles,” South Carolina head coach Josh Goffi said. “We were in complete control of almost every singles match, but as the match wore on, Wilmington made a large push, as they should being a tough team. We got tentative when things didn’t go our way, which is the next step for us – to learn to be more confident when we’re leading. Hopefully a win like this will give our players confidence that when we’re doing things right on the court, that it’s okay to shut the door.

“But, when the match came down to Harry [Menzies] and Kyle [Koch], momentum was shifting back and forth all the time. With Wilmington serving for the match on Court 5, it was Kyle’s ability to fight back and break that gave Harry the confidence to close out his match. Without Kyle’s heart in that moment, we couldn’t have come away with this win.”

The Gamecocks took the early lead with a pair of doubles wins. At the top of the order, Cox and Mihov were down a break at 2-4 to the eighth-ranked tandem of Kosta Blank and Chris Cooprider. The South Carolina duo rediscovered its aggression to win the next five games to take a 7-4 lead, yielding just two points in the process. Cox and Mihov showed great hands at the net, finding angles on volleys and covering the court well from the baseline when needed. The Seahawk pair was on its heels, but recovered to hold serve and stay in the match. They looked to keep it going, forcing Mihov into a lengthy service game, but the Gamecock junior rose to the challenge with big serves, including match point which forced a weak return to set up an easy overhead for Cox for the 8-6 win.

“This was a big win for Chip [Cox] and Tsvetan [Mihov],” South Carolina assistant coach Matt Lucas said. “They were tentative at first, and Wilmington was on them. It was nice to see their aggression come out midway through the set. They started being proactive with their movement and play-calling, showing discipline and really delivering on first serve. A top-10 win like this – and it’s a shame they didn’t get a chance to finish their last match against a top-10 opponent against Georgia Tech – but, this should give them the confidence that they are becoming a legitimate top-10 doubles team themselves.”

In the No. 3 doubles match, Ben Barnette and Thiago Pinheiro did not require a comeback to defeat Kaue Pereira and Michael Reilly. South Carolina’s sophomores scored an early break in the sixth game of the set and held off the Seahawk tandem for an 8-6 win that clinched the point. Kyle Koch and Menzies had the nation’s 45th-ranked team of Rafael Aita and Sam Williams on the ropes in the No. 2 match, up a break at 7-6 when play was suspended.

At the start of singles, Pinheiro and Adams made quick work of their matches to build the Gamecock lead to 3-0. Pinheiro ceded just three games to Blank in the No. 4 match, and Adams strong-armed Williams 6-3, 6-3 in a baseline battle. South Carolina was up a set in three of the other four matches on court as well, but all three of them would go to three sets. Wilmington got on the board when Cooprider rallied to upend Cox 2-6, 6-2, 6-3 in the No. 2 match. Then, despite pushing No. 47 Aita to tiebreaks in both sets, No. 94 Mihov fell 7-6 (7), 7-6 (2), bringing the Seahawks within a point at 3-2.

The match would come down to the Nos. 5 and 6 contests. While Menzies had rallied to force a third set after dropping his first against Hublitz, Koch was sustaining a surge by Pereira that sent their No. 5 match into a third set. On Court 6, Menzies and Hublitz survived a stretch of four games in which neither could hold serve. Menzies capped the stretch by breaking Hublitz at Love to level his match at 3-3. Just at that point, Pereira captured a service break over Koch to go ahead 4-3.

None of the four competitors could find consistent momentum, though. Menzies fought to hold his serve as Koch was challenging Pereira’s serve four courts away. The Gamecock sophomore’s effort fell just short and left him serving to stay in the match with Pereira. Koch held serve and got ahead of Pereira as he tried to serve out the win. Meanwhile, Menzies was staving off a surge from Hublitz. The momentum from Koch’s lead carried Menzies through his service game to take a 5-4 lead, and Koch’s crushing overhead delivered the break and a 5-5 tie on Court 5. Menzies was fired up by the swing and earned a match point on Hublitz’s serve. The Seahawks’ sophomore held off that effort then delivered a passing shot to take the advantage. Menzies powered a backhand up the line to get back to deuce and an overhead set up his second match point. He delivered a good return up the middle and sustained a cross-court, forehand to backhand rally until Hublitz got impatient hoping for a mistake from the senior and missed a backhand long to close out the 6-2, 3-6, 6-4 Menzies victory. Unfortunately, the tied turned in the opposite direction on Court 5, were Pereira broke Koch to take at 6-5 lead and closed out his 6-4, 4-6, 7-5 victory.

The Gamecocks face just their second road trip of the dual-match season, traveling north to face William & Mary on Friday at 6 p.m. and then to No. 34 VCU for a 1 p.m. match on Sunday. South Carolina is back at Carolina Tennis Center on Fri., March 1, hosting No. 14 Texas A&M in the first SEC match of the season.

#48 South Carolina 4, #37 UNC Wilmington 3

Doubles (Order of Finish: 1, 3)
1. Chip Cox / Tsvetan Mihov (SC) def (8) Kosta Blank/Chris Cooprider (UNCW) 8-6
2. Kyle Koch / Harry Menzies (SC) led (45) Rafael Aita/Sam Williams (UNCW) 7-6 suspended
3. Ben Barnette / Thiago Pinheiro (SC) def. Kaue Pereira/Michael Reilly (UNCW) 8-6

Singles (Order of Finish: 4, 3, 2, 1, 6*, 5)
1. (47) Rafael Aita (UNCW) def. (94) Tsvetan Mihov (SC) 7-6 (7), 7-6 (2)
2. Chris Cooprider (UNCW) def. Chip Cox (SC) 2-6, 6-2, 6-3
3. Andrew Adams (SC) def. Sam Williams (UNCW) 6-3, 6-3
4. Thiago Pinheiro (SC) def. Kosta Blank (UNCW) 6-1, 6-2
5. Kaue Pereira (UNCW) def. Kyle Koch (SC) 6-4, 4-6, 7-5
6. Harry Menzies (SC) def. Zach Hublitz (UNCW) 6-2, 3-6, 6-4