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Lobos Net First Win in Comeback Fashion 5-2 Over Santa Clara

by Frank Mercogliano

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — New Mexico found itself down 2-0 after the doubles point and a two-set loss in singles, but the Lobos, who have played a great schedule this season wouldn’t be denied, winning the final five matches to earn a 5-2 win over previously unbeaten Santa Clara for the first win of the season, and the first UNM win for head coach Chris Russell.

UNM’s opponents were a combined 14-0 on the season before the match, but UNM flipped the script from its first two, losing the doubles point but taking five of six singles matches.

Down 2-0 after getting swept 2-0 in doubles and a loss at No. 3 singles, UNM opened the comeback.  The Lobos were buoyed by winning four of the opening six singles sets, the biggest of which was Ale3x Maggs, saving a pair of set points in a 6-6 tiebreak to prevail 9-7.  That gave UNM a opening set win as Arda Azkara won his final two games to win 6-4 while Jan Pucalka and Georgio Samaha each won 6-2 and Nos. 5 and 6.

Azkara had no trouble after his opening set win, taking his first spring season match, winning 6-4, 6-1 at No. 1 over Mann Shah just seconds before Samaha earned his first spring win with a 6-2, 6-3 victory, taking the final four games of the second.

That evened the match at 2-2 just 90 minutes into the affair, but it would take nearly 100 more minutes to figure out a winner.  The Lobos went up 3-2 in the match as Jan Pucalka won his third straight, doing it in dramatic fashion.  On serve in a second set tiebreaker at 4-3, he uncharacteristically double-faulted and then hit a forehand into the net, giving his opponent Nick Cmager three set points with two serves to come.

Pucalka watched a point go wide, and then his forehand winner made it 6-5.  Another winner evened things at 6-6, and up 7-6 he recorded a fifth straight point, and the win as Cmager went wide.

It looked like Maggs could clinch the win as he led 5-4, 40-30 over James Bell, but Bell twice hit two bullets to Maggs’ backhand for winners, saving a pair of match points.  Bell eventually won the tiebreaker 7-2, forcing a third set.

While that was happening, Rafael Abdulsalam was playing his best match of the season.  Abdulsalam struggled early with Arthur Neuhaus at No. 2 singles, falling 6-2 in the first, but at 4-4, he broke serve on the way to a 6-4 second set win.

He then rolled to a 4-0 lead in the third set before Neuhaus crept back in it at 5-4.  However, with Abdulsalam serving, he took the part of aggressor, twice forcing Neuhaus to error into the net.  That set up set point, and Neuhaus was able to return Abdulsalam’s banger of a serve, but it went right to Rafa’s forehand.  He shot a ball down the line that Nauhaus got a piece of, falling harmlessly out of bounds, touching off a celebration on Court 2.

That clinched the match for UNM, but Maggs and Bell were still battling, and after back-to-back tiebreakers, the third also went to a tiebreaker as well, with Maggs pulling it out 7-3, giving him a wild 7-6 (9-7), 6-7 (2-7), 7-6 (7-3) win.

The pushed UNM to 1-2 on the season, and Santa Clara dropped to 2-1.  UNM gets a day off before hosting Grand Canyon at McKinnon Family Tennis Stadium on Sunday at noon.

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