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March 12, 2015

COLUMBIA, S.C. – No. 38 South Carolina claimed key points throughout a 4-1 win over Kentucky Thursday afternoon at Carolina Tennis Center. The Gamecocks (11-8, 2-3 SEC) won the doubles point in a tiebreak and claimed its final two points of the match with wins that came in rapid succession from Thomas Mayronne and Kyle Koch after Harrison O’Keefe got the singles scoring started early.

“This was a great match for us,” South Carolina head coach Josh Goffi said. “The team is getting stronger with every match. Now that we have a full lineup, everyone’s confidence is growing, especially after a win like this. The doubles point was sticky – down a break on 3 from the start with 1 and 2 teetering. We were finally able to pull ahead on 2, which gave 1 the confidence to win, and that point played a big role in today’s win. What I loved about today was the resilience. There were a lot of momentum swings, but we stuck with it and made the final push to the end of the match, which is something we have not always done well this season.”

Mayronne and O’Keefe were sharp early in doubles as the 47th-ranked tandem took down Jerry Lopez and Nils Ellefson 6-3 while Kentucky held an edge in the No. 2 match and the No. 1 match was on serve. Andrew Adams and Andrew Schafer battled back in the No. 3 match, breaking on a great return from Adams on break point to get back on serve at 5-5 just as the No. 1 match went into a tiebreak. At the top of the lineup and ranked 44th in the nation, seniors Koch and Thiago Pinheiro were matching No. 58 Beck Pennington and Kevin Lai throughout the match with neither team cracking the other’s serve. In the tiebreak, though, Koch/Pinheiro sprinted out to a 4-0 lead behind brilliant shot-making. The Wildcats took the next point, but South Carolina took advantage of mistakes to collect the next three for the 7-6 (1) victory.

O’Keefe quickly doubled the Gamecocks’ advantage with a 6-2, 6-2 win over Kevin Lai in the No. 5 match as the freshman opened each set with 5-0 leads en route to the victory.

In the Nos. 2 and 3 matches, Koch and Pinheiro used an early and late 4-0 runs, respectively, to win their first sets 6-3 and 6-2. No. 113 Schafer and Trey Yates traded service breaks late in the first set before their No. 4 match went to a tiebreak, while Mayronne rallied in in his No. 6 matchup with Jake Stefanik to also force a first-set tiebreak.

Both Schafer and Mayronne staked out early leads in their tiebreaks before holding off their opponents. After Yates tied Schafer at 5-5, the two traded points before Schafer’s patience wore down Yates, whose miscues delivered a 7-6 (6) win for the Gamecocks’ sophomore. Mayronne and Stefanik each went on 4-0 streaks to twice knot the tiebreak. After Stefanik evened the score at 5-5, Mayronne locked in to win the next two points for the 7-6 (5) victory that became the fifth first set to go the Gamecocks’ way.

Kentucky looked to seize back the momentum, however, with No. 92 Pennington surging ahead of Adams early in the second set of the No. 1 match. Bushamuka was similarly rallying in his second set against Pinheiro, and Lopez had turned the tables on Koch as well. Both matches went to a third set just before Pennington wrapped up his 6-4, 6-3 win over Adams.

With its lead down to 2-1, South Carolina regained control with the lower half of the lineup making the first moves. Schafer and Mayronne both established early leads, and the improvement was contagious, spreading to Koch, who dominated Lopez for an early 3-0 lead in their third set. As the youthful Gamecocks were absorbing a run from their opponents, Pinheiro began his rally from 0-4 down to keep momentum with the Gamecocks. The senior made the Wildcat freshman feel the pressure of the moment, getting back on serve at 4-4 thanks to a double fault and then holding at Love to take a 5-4 lead.

With all four remaining matches were nearing the finish line, the Gamecocks just needed to close out the crucial points. Mayronne was the first to cross the threshold, finishing off Stefanik 7-6 (5), 6-3 to make it a 3-1 South Carolina lead. Koch had stopped Lopez’s run by holding at 5-2 and took his opponent to deuce in the next game. The no-ad scoring format went the Gamecocks’ way as Koch triumphed in the long rally as Lopez’s final shot sailed wide for a 6-3, 3-6, 6-2 win that clinched South Carolina’s team victory.

The Gamecocks stay in SEC play with a trip to No. 55 Tennessee for a 1 p.m. match on Sat., March 14. South Carolina then has a week to prepare for a Sun., March 22, showdown at No. 3 Georgia, before returning to Carolina Tennis Center the following Sunday for a doubleheader that features at 1 p.m. start against No. 11 Vanderbilt.

#38 South Carolina 4, Kentucky 1

Doubles (Order of Finish: 2, 1)
1. (44) Kyle Koch / Thiago Pinheiro (SC) def. (58) Beck Pennington/Kevin Lai (UK) 7-6 (1)
2. (47) Thomas Mayronne / Harrison O’Keefe (SC) def. Jerry Lopez/Nils Ellefson (UK) 6-3
3. Andrew Adams / Andrew Schafer (SC) led William Bushamuka/Trey Yates (UK) 6-5 suspended

Singles (Order of Finish: 5, 1, 6, 2*)
1. (92) Beck Pennington (UK) def. Andrew Adams (SC) 6-4, 6-3
2. Kyle Koch (SC) def. Jerry Lopez (UK) 6-3, 3-6, 6-2
3. Thiago Pinheiro (SC) tied (125) William Bushamuka (UK) 6-2, 1-6, 5-5 suspended
4. (113) Andrew Schafer (SC) led Trey Yates (UK) 7-6 (6), 5-6 suspended
5. Harrison O’Keefe (SC) def. Kevin Lai (UK) 6-2, 6-2
6. Thomas Mayronne (SC) def. Jake Stefanik (UK) 7-6 (5), 6-3