SANTA BARBARA, Calif. -- The NAIA’s No. 4-ranked Azusa Pacific nearly battled back from a doubles sweep with a short-handed singles lineup, but No. 7 Westmont rallied for a 3-set win at No. 4 singles to edge the Cougars, 5-4, Tuesday afternoon in Santa Barbara.
Azusa Pacific’s doubles lineup didn’t include Ben Eger in his usual No. 3 doubles spot, and the Cougars faced an uphill battle after suffering narrow losses in the strength of the lineup, the top 2 doubles positions. Westmont got an 8-5 win over Azusa Pacific’s No. 1 doubles team, junior Janosch Apelt and sophomore Jochem Hoefnagels, a pair that had been 16-2 on the year entering Tuesday’s match.
Then, the Warriors scored a crucial victory at No. 2 doubles, edging the Cougars’ junior tandem of Whitman Hough and Ilja Ikonnikov, who were 14-4 together entering the match, by a 9-7 margin. For the year, Azusa Pacific had won 32 of 38 matches in No. 1 and No. 2 doubles play, but Westmont’s victories gave the Warriors a commanding 3-0 lead heading into singles play.
After doubles play, Hough was scratched from his No. 4 position in the singles lineup, bumping each player in the bottom half of the Cougars’ singles lineup up a spot. Sophomore Alex Dickson picked up the first of 3 straight Azusa Pacific wins that tied the match at 3-3, posting a 6-1, 6-0 victory as the late addition to the singles lineup in the No. 6 spot.
Apelt tallied a 6-4, 6-4 victory over Carlos Lima at No. 1, and after sitting out doubles, Eger remained in his usual No. 3 spot in the singles lineup and claimed a straight-set win over Tim Goranson with a pair of 7-5 set tiebreakers in both sets. After Bryan Cox won a second-set tiebreaker for a No. 2 singles win over Hoefnagels to push Westmont back in front, 4-3, freshman Frederik Wilkens knotted the match again at 4-4 with a straight-sets win at No. 5.
Ikonnikov, originally slated to play No. 5 in singles, took on Tiago Hayashi in Hough’s singles absence. After winning the opening set, 6-4, Ikonnikov dropped the second set in a tiebreaker before Hayashi claimed the 6-3 third-set match-clinching victory for Westmont, which has now won 8 of its last 9 matches with the lone defeat coming by a 5-4 margin to the NAIA’s top-ranked Fresno Pacific.
With the loss, Azusa Pacific falls to 15-5 overall, 10-3 GSAC, while Westmont improves to 10-5 overall, 8-4 GSAC. The defeat kept the Cougars from clinching a share of second place in the conference standings heading into their regular-season finale against the NAIA’s No. 6-ranked Point Loma Nazarene on Wednesday, April 27.