COLUMBIA, S.C. -- Late-match heroics from sophomore Trey Yates and freshman Austin Hussey helped guide the 20th-ranked Kentucky Wildcats past the Tennessee Volunteers, 4-3, on Thursday afternoon in the second round of the Southeastern Conference tournament at the Carolina Tennis Center.
With its back against the wall, Kentucky earned its 19th win of the season in large part from gritty performances from Yates and Hussey on the fourth and fifth courts. Down 3-2, the two strung together clutch three-set performances to push UK into the quarterfinal match.
After splitting the first two stanzas, Yates pushed on the throttle late, breaking the opposition for a 5-3 lead in the third set. The Dunwoody, Ga., native battled through a tough game before finally tying the match at 3-all with a 4-6, 6-2, 6-4 win.
With the pressure on, it was Hussey's time to step up. The freshman embraced the big moment like he had done in the past - the rookie clinched 4-3 wins over then-No. 10 Illinois and then-No. 10 Texas A&M earlier in the year - securing the match for the Wildcats with a 5-7, 6-3, 6-3 victory.
"It's never easy to go into the tournament and get a win against a team you've played before," head coach Cedric Kauffmann said reviewing the match. "I thought [Tennessee] came in a little confident after beating Auburn. I thought we played pretty good in doubles ... I think we've been beaten up all season ... and that Austin [Hussey] and Jake [Stefanik] really came through again for us on five and six and I'm really proud of those two boys."
Kentucky advances to 19-8 on the season, while Tennessee moves to 12-17 in likely the final match of its season. With the win, the Wildcats advance to the quarterfinal round on Friday, April 22, at 1 p.m., where fourth-seeded Mississippi State awaits UK. Fans can follow along with all of the action through the SEC tournament central page.
As in other matches before, the Wildcats had to battle back from adversity in the opening stanza after dropping the doubles point. The second court was the first to fall, with sophomores William Bushamuka and Trey Yates dropping a 6-3 decision. The top duo of junior Nils Ellefsen and freshman Enzo Wallart led 4-3, when Wallart was struck by the ball in the eye. The rookie played through and eventually thundered down the final point for a 6-4 win on the top court. Freshman Ryotaro Matsumura and sophomore Gus Benson took the final doubles match to a tiebreaker before falling 7-2 and surrendering a 1-0 lead to the Volunteers.
Kentucky didn't waste much time in singles, tying the match behind a dominant performance from Bushamuka. The second-year Wildcat rolled through Tennessee's Luis Valero in the lone ranked singles match of the day, dropping just three games in a 6-2, 6-1 win on the top court. The Princeton, N.J., native closed out the match in style, acing Valero in back-to-back points to secure the team point.
Kentucky then jumped to a 2-1 lead behind the solid play of sophomore Jake Stefanik. The sophomore from Coral Springs, Fla., matched up against Tennessee's Jack Heslin putting together a complete performance, disposing of his opponent in straight sets, 6-3, 6-2.
Tennessee followed up with a point of their own, as Timo Stodder bested Ellefsen, 6-4, 6-2 on the third court to knot the match at 2-all. The Cats then took another step back as Matsumura fell, 6-4, 6-4 on the second court for a 3-2 deficit.
Yates and Hussey then finished fifth and sixth, advancing the Wildcats to a rematch with the Bulldogs. The threat of potential evening rain pushed Kentucky's quarterfinal match to 1 p.m. on Friday from the original 2 p.m. start time.