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Lobos Ousted in Semis 4-3 by Utah State

by Frank Mercogliano

LAS VEGAS. Nev. — They say its hard to beat a team three times, but that’s usually football or basketball talking.  Oddly, in the third meeting between New Mexico and Utah State, the third time was the charm for the Aggies as they took the final three matches on the board for a stunning 4-3 win that ousted the Lobos from the Mountain West semifinals.

Utah State, which finally hit the .500 mark for the season at 12-12, moves to the final on Firday night.

The match on Thursday night went exactly like the first two did in the beginning, as Utah Staet won the doubles point.  That is something it did in the other two meetings, both ending in 4-2 wins for UNM, one on February 25 in Tempe, and just two weeks ago on April 16 in Logan.  Those other two times, UNM got four singles wins.  Thursday that was not to be.

UNM did get three, all in the beginning for a 3-1 lead.  Mountain West Player of the Year Arda Azkara beat David Cierny for a third striaght time this season in straight sets, winning 6-4, 7-5.  That followed Georgio Samaha’s 25th win of the season, an easy 6-3, 6-4 win over Javier Ruiz.  When Ryoma Matsushita won 6-2, 7-6 (7-3) over Roko Savin, UNM needed just one more.

The issue was it was going to have to come in a third set as Rafael Abdulsalam, Aram Noroozian and Nikolay Sysoev all lost their opening sets.  Abdulsalam eventually lost 6-4, 6-4 to Stijn Paardekooper at No. 2 singles.  Noroozian, who had won 15 of his last 17 and was named All-Mountain West, forced a tiebreaker and had it even at 3-3, but he eventually fell 7-4 in the tiebreaker, leaving it all to No. 5 singles, where Nikolay Sysoev was battling Nuno Pinheiro.  After Sysoev won the second set, it was a battle of wills.  Both players had chances to hold serve and take a lead, but neither could.  At 2-2, there were four straight breaks of serve, putting the match at 4-4, 30-30 with Sysoev serving.

After a serve and return, Pinheiro hit a return off the net cord, with the ball tantilizingly hanging for a second before falling on the Utah State side.  That gave Sysoev a 40-30 lead, and it put him five points from sending UNM into the championship.  However, it was Pinheiro who won the next five points for the strangehold on the match.

Sysoev double faulted to move the game to deuce and give a potentially fifth straight broken game, and Sysoev’s return went long.  With it, Pinheiro and the Aggies erupted with a 5-4 lead, and Sysoev nearly smashed the extra ball in his pocket into kingdom come.  From there Pinheiro served out three striaght points, the first on an ace, to give him four match points.  Sysoev served the first, but not the second, and Utah State finally had the win over New Mexico.

NOTES: Samaha finished with a team-best 25 wins … Azkara ended the season with seven straight wins.