May 3, 2014

Southern Maine Claims LEC Title Despite Valiant Effort From Men's Tennis

GORHAM/PORTLAND, Maine—Despite a valiant effort from the defending Little East Conference Tournament Champions, the top-seeded University of Southern Maine Huskies (14-3) ended #2 UMass Boston Men's Tennis' season Saturday afternoon with a 5-1 victory in the Little East Conference Championship Match.

The Beacons finish their season 9-9, a year after earning their first ever Little East Conference Regular Season Championship and first trip to the NCAA Tournament. 

Saturday's match marked the final match for the Beacons' six seniors with Sean Cullen (Medway, Mass.), Charles Lai (Boston, Mass.), Eglis Bizhoti (Kucovë, Albania), Mark Grinhaus (Scarsdale, N.Y.), Lyle Analetto (Belmont, Mass.) and Brian Sou (Revere, Mass.) each playing their final match in a UMass Boston uniform.

Southern Maine, who defeated the Beacons in the regular season 7-2, earned their 14th consecutive victory and first Little East Conference Tournament Title since 2007.

Lai came through with a huge doubles victory, to move into first place in program-history with his 41st career doubles win. The program-record had previously been set by Tom Savoie ('91)-who owned the mark for 22 years.

Saturday's match was characterized by several huge swings, with Southern Maine looking like they would run away with the match at junctures early in doubles and singles play. Both times the Beacons rallied from big deficits to put the pressure back on the hosts, before a rain delay pushed the match inside, where the Huskies eventually were crowned as champions. 

The match began at the Gorham High School Tennis Courts, with Corey Dyke and Christopher G. Ross earning a dominant 8-2 victory at number three doubles over Analetto and Jack Wang (Suzhou, China). 

Max Wilkey and Most Outstanding Player of the Tournament Kyle Curley pushed the lead to 2-0, as they downed Bizhoti and Grinhaus 8-2 at number two doubles.

With the lead already at 2-0, the attention turned to number one singles, where Lai and Cullen found themselves in a tight match, trailing 6-4. After struggling with the big serve of the Huskies top pair early in the match, the Beacons battled back with a pair of breaks, and took the first doubles match 8-6 over Tyler Adams and Scott Gagne.

Southern Maine pushed back to open singles play, as they took the first set on all four courts (singles one-four), with the Beacons winning just six of 24 games.

UMass Boston's four seniors on the court turned the momentum around in the second set, as three of the first four matches went to a second-set tiebreaker, with the Beacons pushing two of the matches to a third set.

Grinhaus, who was dealing with a lower-leg and foot injury, was the lone Beacon who couldn't get things going, as the first-year senior fell 6-0, 6-1 to Gagne at number four singles.

Bizhoti kept the Beacons alive at number three singles, as he put his poor first set behind him (6-0), to earn a 7-2 tiebreaker victory in the second set. He needed a late rally just to force a tiebreak, as his 4-1 lead early in the second set, quickly turned to a 5-4 deficit against Curley.

Number one singles was the next match to reach a second-set tiebreak, as Cullen and Adams battled back-and-forth on court one. After falling behind in the second set, Cullen fell just short in his attempt to rally, falling 6-2, 7-6 (7-4) in the final match of his extremely successful career.

With the Huskies leading 4-1 in the first-to-five final, Lai needed to win his tiebreaker at second singles, just to keep the Beacons' hopes alive. Lai went stroke for stroke with Wilkey, but found himself facing Championship Point at 7-6 in the tiebreak. The two-year captain rolled off three consecutive points to save Championship Point and earn a 9-7 tiebreak win, to take set number two.

Less than fifteen minutes later, with number five and six singles underway, and the third sets just beginning at second and third singles, the skies opened and a torrential pour came crashing down on the players.

After a short delay and a move to the Portland Racket and Tennis Center, play resumed, with the Beacons trailing in a deciding set at number two, three and five singles.

It appeared as if Southern Maine would clinch at number five singles, but Wang fought off a pair of Championship Points to keep the match going-if only for a few more moments. When the match concluded, Wang was trailing Thaddeus St. John 6-4, 5-3 in the second set.

After a valiant effort, Bizhoti couldn't keep up with Curley, as the Huskies earned their fifth and final point-with a 6-0, 6-7 (7-2), 6-2 victory.

In the final two unfinished matches, Lai trailed Wilkey (6-3, 6-7 (9-7), 4-2) at number two singles and Analetto was behind 6-1, 2-1 to Ross at number six singles.