TENNIS: Lamar shocks Incarnate Word, reaches Sunday’s Southland final

Published 3:57 pm Saturday, April 28, 2018

Lamar sports information

BEAUMONT – For the fifth consecutive year the Lamar men’s tennis team will be making an appearance in the Southland Conference Championship finals, but for the first time in three years it comes as a bit of a surprise. The Cardinals (9-13) entered the 2018 SLC Championship tournament as the four seed, and stunned the regular-season champion – Incarnate Word, 4-2, Saturday afternoon at the Beaumont Municipal Tennis Center.

“This was a big win,” said LU head coach Scott Shankles. “UIW is a completely different team from years past. They play with confidence and are well coached. We knew this was going to be a tough match. UIW beat us earlier in the season, and they deserved to win.

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“We lost the doubles points, but it didn’t really seem to affect our guys. We did a good job of fighting back to get early leads in singles,” added Shankles.

The Cardinals were able to exact revenge for the regular-season loss at UIW where the Southland’s other Cardinals recorded a 5-2 decision earlier this month in San Antonio.

Big Red’s upset of the top seed sets up a showdown with bitter rival, Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, for the fifth straight season. The two schools have split the previous four meetings with the Cardinals winning the last two – including last year’s title which came on same court.

San Antonio’s version of the Cardinals (11-10) took the first lead of the match after winning on courts 2 and 3 doubles to take the point. Although UIW won the point, it wasn’t easy. After dropping the opening match at line two, the Red and White bounced back with a 6-3 decision from seniors Logan Powell and Benny Schweizer at the No. 1 spot. The LU duo defeated Incarnate Word’s top-ranked team of Gabriel Evans and Sebastian Mortier.

“All year we’ve struggled with doubles, but we’ve also done a good job of winning a lot of first sets in singles,” said Shankles. “The loss of the doubles point didn’t devastate us, because we’ve been in that position before. We just trusted what we’ve been working on all season and controlled our half of the court.”

UIW added to its lead by taking the match at No. 3 singles. Despite falling behind by two early, LU never allowed the contest to get out of hand. Big Red bounced back with wins at Nos. 4 and 5 singles to tie the match at 2.

Powell got the run started with a straight-sets decision on court No. 4. He defeated UIW’s Joey Vatanadilok, 6-3, 6-2, for the Cards’ first point of the afternoon. Minutes later LU pulled even when freshman Nicolas Mayr defeated Ivanhoe Lissanevitch, 6-3, 7-5.

After tying the match, the Cardinals applied more pressure as junior Sebastian Santibanez had LU knocking on the door. Santibanez defeated UIW’s Paco Bendana, 6-4, 6-3, on court No. 2 to give the Cardinals their first lead of the day.

The victory put LU in the driver’s seat needing only one of the final two matches for the overall win. LU didn’t have to wait long to get that victory as freshman Carlos Paton Canal ousted UIW’s Caleb Dyer, 7-5, 6-4, for the final point.

The Cardinals return to action Sunday for the right to represent the Southland Conference in the NCAA Championships. The match against the Islanders will begin at 10 a.m. at the Beaumont Municipal Tennis Center.

“This is the fifth consecutive year we have been in this situation, so we know what we have to do,” said Shankles. “We need to get in the training room, eat right and then get plenty of rest. The match against (Texas A&M) Corpus Christi will be a battle. They have been our biggest rival and those matches are always tough.”