COLUMBIA, S.C. - No. 11 seed South Carolina used its homecourt advantage to perfection in a gutty 4-1 win over No. 18 Arkansas Thursday morning in SEC Tournament second-round action at Carolina Tennis Center. Wins at the top of the doubles lineup and a commanding singles win by Andrew Schafer set the table, and redshirt freshman Wood Benton closed out the victory with a three-set decision in the No. 6 spot in the lineup.
Knowing the Razorbacks were looking to avenge their loss to South Carolina in the regular-season finale, the Gamecocks came out strong in doubles with Alex Fennell and Sam Swank scoring an early break to go up 3-1 in the No. 2 match. The duo made quick of the next three games to win the match 6-1 just as Gabriel Friedrich and Harrison O'Keefe picked up a break on 19th-ranked Mike Redlicki and Giammarco Micolani to go up 5-3 at the top of the lineup. The Razorbacks' top tandem struck back quickly to get back on serve at 5-4 and was up 40-30 before O'Keefe took it up the line and forced an error to get to deuce. The potential match point drew a long rally before South Carolina closed it out to deliver the 6-4 win and the crucial doubles point.
In singles, Schafer made quick work of Santiago Munoz in the No. 3 match, yielding just one game in the first set of the match en route to the 6-1, 6-0 win that put the Gamecocks up 2-0. The Razorbacks claimed first sets on three of the other five courts, though, as they looked to steal momentum. O'Keefe and Thomas Mayronne went into first-set tiebreaks on Courts 2 and 5, respectively, almost at the same time. O'Keefe had rallied late to force his, but Mayronne had to regroup after a late break en route to his. Both Gamecocks went ahead early in their tiebreaks, but saw their opponents win three straight points midway through. O'Keefe saw No. 72 Jose Salazar rally from a 4-5 deficit to steal the tiebreak 7-6 (5) in the No. 2 match, while Mayronne endured another rally from Adam Sanjurjo on Court 5 as he turned a 3-5 deficit into a 6-5 lead. Mayronne leveled things at 6-6 with a great passing shot and used the energy to win the next two points as well for a 7-6 (6) first-set victory.
While those two courts were closing out tight first sets, the Razorbacks pushed ahead in the No. 4 and 6 matches. Micolani took an early break in the second set to go up 3-1 after claiming the first over Alex Fennell 6-3, and Johan den Toom was rallying back from a first-set loss to Benton with a 6-0 second set.
Mayronne reclaimed the momentum for the Gamecocks as his tiebreak win seemed to break Sanjurjo's spirit. The Gamecocks' redshirt sophomore quickly went up 4-0 to counter Fennell's loss that made it a 2-1 South Carolina team lead. At the top of the lineup, No. 58 Friedrich was also turning the tide against No. 25 Redlicki, shaking off a 4-6 first set loss to put his opponent on his heels in the second and pick up a late service break for a 6-4 victory. Mayronne finished off his match 7-6 (6), 6-0 to put South Carolina up 3-1.
The remaining three matches were even with Friedrich and Redlicki refusing to yield a service game while the other two matches struggled to hold serve throughout. Benton made the first move in the No. 6 match, winning three straight games to take a 5-2 lead over den Toom with a carefully placed shot on the baseline sealing the final game of the stretch. The Razorbacks' junior got one of the breaks back to pull within 5-3, but Benton would not be denied, breaking den Toom for the fifth time in as many service games to claim the 6-3 win and the Gamecocks' second top-20 win of the season.
HEAD COACH JOSH GOFFI
"Unbelievable job by our team. The best part of the day is that they reset after doubles. They came out like warriors, and it was an absolute battle. Arkansas brought it and was a little more subdued today knowing they had to come for business on our courts. [Our guys] did a phenomenal job shutting them down. There were about three or four momentum shifts in the match, and our guys just stayed steady - trusted the game plan, trusted matchups, trusted what they do in practice every day. They got it and absolutely deserved it."
After Arkansas claimed the first set on four of the first five decided, Thomas Mayronne held off a late charge to win his first-set tiebreak. He continued that momentum early in the second set and answered Arkansas' win in the No. 4 match by quickly closing out his win at No. 5 7-6 (6), 6-0.
SOUTH CAROLINA NOTABLES
· The Gamecocks have two wins over top-20 opponents this season, both Arkansas and both in the last two matches they've played.
· South Carolina was sharp against an Arkansas team looking to avenge a loss to the Gamecocks in the regular-season finale. South Carolina won the doubles point today after losing it in the previous match.
· The No. 3 spot in the order has been a steady one for the Gamecocks, who have claimed points at that position in eight of their last 10 matches. Harrison O'Keefe accounted for seven of those wins with Andrew Schafer keeping the streak of four straight going today.
· While picking up wins in both matches against Arkansas' Santiago Munoz, Schafer dominated him today 6-1, 6-0 after battling out a 4-6, 7-5, 6-4 win in the regular-season meeting.
· The Gamecocks won the doubles point for the fourth time in the last six matches.