Illini Rout ASU to Advance to NCAA Elite Eight
Illinois senior Gavin Sontag, who missed nearly three months after breaking his hip in Frbruary, picked up right where he left off today in the NCAA Championships, earning the clinching win in a 4-1 defeat of 14th-seed Arizona State in Athens, Ga. The third-seeded Illini, now 28-3 on the year, will face sixth-seeded Mississippi on Sunday at 4 p.m. central time for a shot at the NCAA semifinals.
The Illinois-Arizona State dual was the last of four matches to be played today at the Henry Field Stadium. The three previous matches ran long, forcing the Illini from a 4 p.m. to a 6 p.m. start time (all times central). In addition, Illinois was forced to split the six courts with the other quarterfinal match (Mississippi/Mississippi State) because the other competition site did not have adequate lighting. As a result, the Illinois-ASU match ran nearly four and a half hours.
The Illini continued their doubles dominance by clinching the doubles point and a 1-0 advantage for the 21st consecutive dual match. In the past two months, Illinois has lost only two of 36 doubles contests in dual match play. At the No. 3 position, UI's pair of Jakub Teply and Matt Snyder reeled off five straight points to claim an 8-3 win over the duo of Tim Hammond and Casey Was. The combo of Teply/Snyder has now won 13 straight matches to improve to an impressive 20-3 on the season.
Illinois clinched the doubles point at the top spot, as UI's fifth-ranked pair of Oliver Freelove and Cary Franklin earned a close 8-6 win over ASU's team of Ed Carter and Jeff Williams, ranked 16th nationally. Freelove/Franklin improve to 34-8 on the season, already a school record for team doubles victories.
In singles play, the top three positions played first. Illinois quickly built a 2-0 lead as Franklin, a native of Georgia, routed ASU's Jeff Williams 7-5, 6-2. After a close first set, the Illini junior broke Williams' serve twice to build a 5-1 advantage before settling for the straight-set win. Franklin Franklin improves to 34-10 on the season and 25-3 in all dual matches.
The Illini received a boost at the No. 3 position, as junior Jeff Laski upset ASU's nationally-ranked Alex Osterrieth 7-6 (7-3), 7-5 to claim a commanding 3-0 advantage in the dual. With both Franklin and Laski finished with their matches, Sontag and Teply, Illinois' Nos. 4 and 5 players began play.
Illinois had an opportunity to close the match out at the top positiion, as Freelove rallied after dropping the first set. The Illini senior, ranked ninth nationally, faced Gustavo Maracaccio, the No. 41 player in the country, and lost the first set 6-3. Freelove trailed in the second set 2-0 before bouncing back to force a third set. In the final set, the England-native was up 5-4 and served for the match, only to be broken by the ASU star. The two players would go to a tie-break, where Maracaccio erased a 3-1 deficit with six straight points to win the match and pull the Sun Devils within 3-1 in the dual match. The loss ended Freelove's 11-match winning streak.
While Freelove and Maracaccio battled in the third set at the No. 1 position, Sontag was beginning just his second dual match since February. The UI senior, the only All-American in school history, fractured his hip in the semifinals of the National Team Indoor Championships on February 20 against Stanford. In the first eight matches of the season, Sontag earned the clinching win on five occasions. He returned to the lineup last weekend against Northwestern in the first round of the NCAA Regionals, but did not finish his match and did not play the next day against Vanderbilt.
Sontag burst out of the gate to win the first set easily, 6-2, against Carter of ASU. In the second set, Sontag broke Carter's serve and built a 5-4 lead. The Illini senior was serving for the match and went up 40-30 for his first match point. Carter responded and the two players went back-and-forth, as Sontag would battle off five break points in the game. The game went to deuce on eight occasions, and Sontag missed on three match points as Carter continuedto climb back into the match. Finally, on his fourth match point, Sontag held serve to claim the 6-2, 6-4 win to propel the Illini into the round of eight.
Illinois advances to the NCAA Championships round of wight for the first time in school history, as the squad improves to 1-1 all-time in the "Sweet Sixteen." The Illini will face Mississippi on Sunday, in a rematch of the National Team Indoor Championships. Illinois upset the fourth-seeded Rebels 4-3 in the round of eight on the way to the finals in Seattle in February. Mississippi holds a 2-1 edge in the all-time series.
#3 Illinois 4, #14 Arizona State 1