AZUSA, Calif.-- After nearly five hours and forty five minutes and two different venues the NAIA’s 4th ranked Azusa Pacific took a 5-4 marathon win over NCAA Div. II’s 21st ranked Hawaii Pacific on Friday evening.
Gary Yam, who has played the hero role for the Cougars numerous times this year, enjoyed the spotlight again as he clinched the match with a 6-4, 6-7, 7-5 win in a contest that began at Azusa Pacific and shifted to Citrus College in the third set once lighting became an issue.
"Playing a deciding match here earlier this year might have helped me slightly today, but after a little while you get used to your surroundings and it doesn’t really matter," said Yam, who closed out a 5-4 win over Grand Canyon exactly two weeks earlier, also at Citrus. "Both of us kept improving throughout the match, but the crowd support from my teammates really got me through to the end, because I used every last bit of energy that I had."
Yam had the first serve, and each player held serve for the first eight games of the third set. However, Stephan Weling broke Yam's serve to take a 5-4 lead and serve for the victory. That's when the critical point of the day’s most critical match came when Yam, after going down 5-4, returned a lob that had all the makings of an easy smash point. But Weling's return slam went straight into the net and momentum shifted back to the Cougars as Yam returned the favor with the first of back-to-back service breaks for the 7-5 win in the determining set.
"We both had chances to break early, and we were mostly playing consistently," Yam said. "I just kept trying to play the same all the way until the end because I had nothing to lose by playing my best. It seemed like my opponent started thinking more about winning (after he broke my serve), while I was able to stay focused on just playing my best and keep putting the ball in play. He was the better player for the first nine games, but he wasn’t able to keep it up. I could see the chance at the end, and I knew I had to step it up."
After the Cougars took a 2-1 lead in doubles, Jochem Hoefnagels registered a 6-3, 6-1 win over Georgi Yordanov in the 2nd spot to open singles play, while Janosch Apelt took No. 1 singles with a 7-6, 6-2 defeat of Petr Michnev.
Hawaii Pacific responded by winning the next three matches to tie it up at 4-4. Ben Eger took a tough loss in No. 4 singles, falling to Gerlad Moretti 3-6, 6-4, 6-3, and Ilja Ikonnikov dropped a two set match to Adriano Locorotondo with a 6-4, 6-4 setback in the 5th position. Patic Guenther knotted the match up by taking a 7-6 (7-5), 6-4 victory over Frederik Wilkens.beforeYam broke the skid with his win.
In doubles Hoefnagels and Apelt battled to a 9-8 (7-4) win against Guenther and Michnev in the top spot, and the team of Yam and Ikonnikov had no issue in an 8-3 defeat of Moretti and Weling in No. 3 doubles.
"Everybody had very close matches today," Cougar head coach Mark Bohren said. "We probably could have won every match, and we could have lost every match. Our guys have been pulling through some close ones this year, and that’s the mark of a good team."
Locorotondo and Yordanov handed Azusa Pacific its first loss of the afternoon by beating Eger and Wilkens 8-2.
"The intensity of our future conference is probably going to be a lot like this, match in and match out," Bohren said. "As a coach, matches like this are pretty stressful to watch, but it’s very exciting when the guys come through at the end like they did today."
Azusa Pacific gets back to conference play with a road match tomorrow at Biola, beginning at 9 a.m.