MOBILE, Ala. -- Azusa Pacific never fell behind in its NAIA quarterfinals matchup with Oklahoma Christian, but the Cougars sure felt like their season was on the ropes in a grueling 5-3 win Thursday afternoon.
The oppressive Gulf Coast heat wore down both teams in the 3-hour, 58-minute affair, and a wave of apparent leg cramps overpowered Oklahoma Christian’s No. 2 singles player, Lucie Sipkova, forcing her to retire late in the third set and forfeit the match-clinching point to junior Natalie McNall. McNall had won the opening set by a narrow 2-point tiebreaker margin, lost the second set, 6-2, and she took the lead for good when Sipkova cramped up in the middle of a third-set rally with the score tied at 3 games apiece and 30-all in the game.
With her opponent hobbled and barely able to keep her feet, McNall easily put away the point to take a 40-30 lead, and Sipkova forfeited a point penalty for a time violation as she had already made use of her allotted medical timeouts. That penalty gave McNall the game for a 4-3 lead, and Sipkova was unable to take the court on the ensuing changeover, retiring from the match to give McNall the victory.
With the win, Azusa Pacific improves to 21-4 overall and moves into the NAIA semifinals for a matchup with top-seeded Fresno Pacific at 1 p.m. (CDT) Friday afternoon. The Cougars will be making their first NAIA semifinals appearance 2006, when they appeared in the national semifinals in 3 consecutive campaigns (2004, 05, 06).
Senior Casey Wetzig posted a 6-1, 6-2 win at No. 6 singles, where her opponent also succumbed to the heat and required a medical timeout just to finish the match. Freshman Emily Harris rallied from an opening-set defeat with back-to-back 6-1 sets that secured a 3-set victory at No. 2 singles, a victory that put the Cougars just one win away from clinching the match.
McNall teamed up with freshman Molly Ruby for an 8-6 No. 3 doubles win, giving Azusa Pacific the early doubles edge. After Oklahoma Christian tied the match with a narrow 8-5 No. 1 doubles victory, the Cougars’ No. 2 doubles team of McNall and junior Leah Hoffee closed out an 8-5 win that gave Azusa Pacific a 2-1 edge heading into singles play.
At the time the match ended, Hoffee had responded to a run of 9 consecutive games lost to win 3 of the next 5 games of the third set, and she was serving into a 5-3 deficit when McNall’s opponent retired to end the match.