SANTA BARBARA, Calif.-- In a battle between two of the NAIA’s top-5 teams the 4th-ranked Cougars outlasted No. 5 Westmont in a dramatic 5-4 win. Azusa Pacific, which led 4-1 at one point, lost three straight matches and was on the verge of the match-sealing 4th with the Cougars trailing 15-40 while being down 3 games to six in No. 3 doubles. The team of Gary Yam and Ilja Ikonnikov, however, forged a comeback effort and took the next five games to give Azusa Pacific an 8-6 win in the match-deciding contest.
“It was a very good win for us. It was an intense crowd, but we came back and pulled it out,” said head coach Mark Bohren.
The day opened with singles play as Jochem Hoefnagels improved to 7-0 this year with a 6-1, 6-0 defeat of Rodrigo Schaefer in the No. 2 spot. In No. 4 singles Ben Eger, who gutted out a win over Vanguard last week despite being sick, got past John Bertram with a 6-3, 6-1 victory. Ikonnikov battled to win the first set before cruising on to a 7-6 (7-1), 6-2 win against Joshua Barnard.
At the top spot Bryan Cox posted a 6-1, 6-4 win against Janosch Apelt, while Yam notched a 6-4, 6-3 win over Nicholas Szyndlar in the 6th position to give Azusa Pacific a 4-1 lead.
In the final singles match a flu-stricken Frederik Wilkens had a chance to seal the Cougars win, but suffered a narrow 6-7 (4-7), 6-4, 6-4 loss to Tim Goranson in the third spot.
In doubles play Westmont took the first two matches to tie it up at 4-4. The Warriors’ top doubles team of Schaefer and Cox beat Hoefnagels and Apelt 8-5, before their second team of Gornason and Bertram defeated Eger and Wilkens 8-3.
Then, with the match on the line Ikonnikov and Yam overcame a 6-3 deficit by storming back with five straight games to clinch Azusa Pacific’s fifth GSAC win of the season. The men improved to 6-1 this year and put their record up against Hawaii Pacific on Friday.