March 29, 2013
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- In the Vols' two meetings against Texas A&M, Tennessee head coach Sam Winterbotham has told his team the match will come down to one or two points.
Both times, he's been exactly right.
With the fifth-ranked Vols teetering on the brink of defeat, Taylor Patrick and Mikelis Libietis earned three-set wins on opposite ends of the lineup to lead Tennessee to a 4-3 victory Friday at Goodfriend Tennis Center.
It was Tennessee's second 4-3 comeback victory over the Aggies this season. The Vols (18-6, 5-3) previously edged out Texas A&M to close out the ITA National Team Indoor Championships in Seattle in mid-February.
This time around, the Vols took the doubles point and went up 2-0 with a quick win by Hunter Reese at the No. 2 position, but Texas A&M rallied to take a 3-2 lead with wins through the middle of the lineup.
"Looking around, we were in a whole world of hurt, we're just finding ways to win," Winterbotham said. "I'm waiting for six guys to show up on the right day, but we are finding enough guys to show up to give us a chance."
The Vols got the chance to win from the No. 1 and 6 positions.
Patrick pulled away for a 6-2, 4-6, 6-3 over Jordan Szabo on court 6 to even the match 3-3, setting the stage for Libietis.
With all eyes on court No. 1, Libietis stayed perfect in SEC play to deliver the Vols' win. He broke Jeremy Efferding at 4-all and then served out the 6-7, 6-1, 6-4 victory. He tossed his racquet in the air as the Vols celebrated their second 4-3 win over Texas A&M this season.
"He's handling it so much better," Winterbotham said. "That's part of his maturity. He's a guy who's really benefitting from playing these kinds of matches in this kind of environment."
Libietis is now 31-4 in singles, including 6-0 in the SEC.
Just like their first meeting, the doubles point between the Vols and Aggies came down to a deciding tiebreaker. The Vols ended up on the winning side this time.
The two teams split in lopsided matches on courts 2 and 3, making court 1 the tipping point, where the Vols were fighting out of trouble.
Seventh-ranked Libietis and Reese trailed 6-4 but reeled off three games in a row to get back on serve. The match eventually came down to a tiebreaker. Reese saved a match point win an ace down the T, and the Vols won the next two points to defeat 11th-ranked Ore and Withrow 9-8 (6).
In singles, the Aggies came out strong, taking 4 of 6 first sets across the courts.
Reese was one of the two Vols to win a first set and he was lightning fast in putting his point on the scoreboard, beating Junior Ore 6-1, 6-0 to put the Vols ahead 2-0.
From there, Texas A&M started taking command of the match. Withrow defeated Jones, the hero of the Vols' win over the Aggies last time, 6-3, 6-0 on court 5. The Aggies tied the match 2-2 when Adams defeated Brandon Fickey 6-4, 6-4 on court 3.
Texas A&M took its first team lead in the match 3-2 just minutes later. Shane Vinsant beat Chaplin in two close sets 6-4, 6-4 on court 4, leaving Patrick and Libietis the final Vols on court.
Less than a week ago, Patrick had never won an SEC match. Now he's won two. The Knoxville senior evened the match at 3-3 by beating Szabo at the bottom of the lineup.
"How great is it that Taylor Patrick has come in and played big for us?" Winterbotham said. "That guy has waited his turn for three years. We have so much confidence in him."
Libietis did not let his team down on court 1. After playing a loose first set against Efferding, the Vols' ace settled down in the final two sets. With his serve rolling, he got the breaks he needed the rest of the way to give the Vols the victory.
"The last three matches, I've been playing a lot better mentally," Libietis said. "I'm on a roll right now and need to enjoy it."
Tennessee 4, Texas A&M 3
1. #3 Mikelis Libietis, UT, def. #40 Jeremy Efferding, A&M, 6-7, 6-1, 6-4
2. #31 Hunter Reese, UT, def. Junior Ore, A&M, 6-1, 6-0
3. Harrison Adams, A&M, def. #115 Brandon Fickey, UT, 6-3, 6-1
4. #93 Shane Vinsant, A&M, def. Jarryd Chaplin, UT, 6-4, 6-4
5. #118 Jackson Withrow, A&M, def. Edward Jones, 6-3, 6-0
6. Taylor Patrick, UT, def. Jordan Szabo, A&M, 6-2, 4-6, 6-3
1. #7 Libietis/Reese, UT, def. #11 Ore/Withrow, A&M, 9-8 (6)
2. #25 Adams/Vinsant, A&M, def. Fickey/Chaplin, UT, 8-3
3. #52 Collins/Jones, UT, def. Efferding/Szabo, A&M, 8-4
Order of Finish: Doubles (2,3,1); Singles (2,5,3,4,6,1).