SAN DIEGO, Calif. – The No. 59 Bronco men's tennis team held off St. Mary's for a thrilling 4-3 win in the first round of the WCC Tournament on Wednesday. With Santa Clara down 3-2, Ilya Osintsev won his third set 7-5 and John Lamble won his third set 6-3 to clinch the victory.
The Broncos advance to the quarterfinals, where they will take on USF on Thursday at 9am. The Dons defeated fifth-seeded LMU 4-0 on Wednesday. Santa Clara is the No. 4 seed in the tournament while USF is No. 8.
Santa Clara notched its 16th victory to move to 16-6 overall and 6-4 in WCC play. The Broncos have a 12-2 home record, 2-4 road mark, and they are now 2-0 at neutral sites.
On Wednesday, Santa Clara fought until the end and persevered in a competitive match. The contest was a rematch from Friday, when Santa Clara topped St. Mary's 4-0 on the Mission Campus.
The Broncos won the top two spots in doubles to earn the doubles point, which would turn out to be the difference-maker in the match. Coming off a thrilling comeback victory to clinch the doubles point over Pacific, Ashot Khacharyan and Mikheil Khmiadashvili crushed their Gael opponents 8-2 at No. 2. The tandem has gone 5-3 since becoming partners late in the season.
Santa Clara's reliable team of Lamble and Osintsev took care of business in the top spot, winning 8-4 to secure the doubles point. The First Team All-WCC duo has an outstanding 16-2 record in 2014. Lamble and Osintsev have 38 career wins, which is the second-most victories by one team in program history.
With one point on the board, the teams moved to singles. St. Mary's got off to a quick start by winning No. 6 singles 6-1, 6-2 and No. 3 singles 7-6 (5), 6-2.
The Broncos got back on track behind Sam Bertram, who picked up one of his biggest victories of the season. The Aussie started well with a 6-4 first set victory, but had to dig deep after the Gaels answered by taking the second set, 6-2. Down 5-2 in the third set, Bertram pulled off a tremendous comeback, forcing a third-set tiebreaker which he went on to win. He is now 13-8 in his first year as a Bronco after transferring from Fresno City College.
With the match knotted at 2-2, the Gaels squeaked out a win at No. 4. Khmiadashvili went toe to toe with his opponent, but came up just short in two tiebreakers which determined the match. He showed incredible heart, rallying from a 5-1 deficit in the third set to set up a tiebreaker. The final score was 7-6 (4), 4-6, 7-6 (3) in favor of St. Mary's.
Santa Clara was down 3-2 and needed a victory to stay in the match. Osintsev, who was locked in a hotly-contested battle in the second position, answered the bell. The match was evenly split as St. Mary's won the first set 6-4, Santa Clara took the second set 6-4, and the third set was all tied up at 5-5. In a gutsy effort, the junior stayed tough and pulled out the final two games to earn a 7-5 third set victory.
The All-WCC Second Team honoree improved to a phenomenal 13-1 this season. The Russian also earned WCC Singles Player of the Week honors three times, most in the conference.
At three wins apiece, the Broncos' fate fell on the shoulders of Lamble. Santa Clara's dependable senior came through once again as he has all season, beating his opponent 7-6 (4), 4-6, 6-3 to win the match for the Broncos.
The Saratoga, Calif. native continued his exceptional season and is now 15-1 in 2014 and 21-4 including the fall. With 81 career singles wins, Lamble is second all-time behind former teammate Tom Pham, who went 89-28. Lamble earned All-WCC First Team honors in singles for the second consecutive year.