AZUSA, Calif. -- The NAIA’s No. 5-ranked Azusa Pacific gave top-ranked defending NAIA champion Fresno Pacific all it could handle Monday afternoon, but the Sunbirds took 4-of-6 singles matches to escape with a 5-4 win that snapped the Cougars’ 8-match winning streak.
The final 3 singles matchups went to 3 sets, and it was Martin Vaisse’s 3-6, 6-4, 6-4 No. 3 singles win over sophomore Alex Lane that delivered the match-clinching point for Fresno Pacific, which is now 15-1 overall and has won all 11 of its Golden State Athletic Conference matches to clinch at least a share of its third consecutive conference title.
It was Fresno Pacific’s closest margin against a GSAC opponent since California Baptist pinned a 5-4 defeat on the Sunbirds in their only conference defeat in 2009. Ironically, it was Vaisse who delivered the match-clinching point against the Sunbirds in that contest for California Baptist, which eliminated its tennis program at the end of the 2009 season and led to Vaisse’s transfer to the Fresno Pacific program this season.
Another tough loss for Azusa Pacific came at No. 2 singles, where Fresno Pacific’s Alex Gonzalez avoided another 3-set battle when he held off sophomore Janosch Apelt for a tough 6-3, 6-4 win. Apelt defeated Gonzalez in 3 sets for Azusa Pacific’s lone singles point when the teams met earlier this year in Fresno.
Freshman Jochem Hoefnagels rallied for a 3-set win over Denny Fafek at the No. 4 spot, keeping the Cougars alive in the match with a 2-6, 7-6 (7-3), 6-3 victory.
Senior Matthijs Bolsius, ranked No. 6 in the ITA’s NAIA individual singles rankings, knocked off the NAIA’s No. 2 Xavier Smith in 3 sets to close out the match. With the sunlight fading and the third set knotted at 5-5, Bolsius and Smith played a set tiebreaker to close out the match. Bolsius never trailed in the set, claiming 5 of the first 6 points before Smith rallied to tie the set at 6-all. However, Smith hit a pair of shots wide in the final 2 rallies to secure the win for Bolsius, who had dropped the second-set tiebreaker, 7-5, with a chance to close out the win in straight sets.
Just as it did in the first meeting with Fresno Pacific, a 6-3 defeat in Fresno, the Cougars won 2 of the 3 doubles points with victories at the No. 2 and 3 spots, both by 8-6 scores. Apelt and senior Mathias Weber won at No. 2 over Denny Fafek and Jose Hilla, and Lane teamed up with senior Ronald Chow for the 2-game win over the NAIA’s No. 22 doubles tandem of Maxime Adam and Vaisse.
The match was delayed for 25 minutes during the opening sets of singles play, as the rain showers that had threatened from a distance briefly opened up over the Munson & Bavougian Tennis Complex.
With the loss, Azusa Pacific drops to 14-4 overall and 8-3 in GSAC play, and the Cougars are now tied for second place in the conference with Concordia. The Cougars continue GSAC play with a Saturday visit to Hope International. That contest precedes a Monday, April 19 matchup that will likely decide sole possession of second place in the GSAC, when Concordia visits Azusa Pacific in a rematch of the Eagles’ 7-2 win in Irvine in the teams’ first meeting of the season.