By Cody Soto
It’s the home stretch for No. 2 Baylor men’s tennis, and the Bears hit the road for their final two regular season conference matches. Baylor is still in the running for another Big 12 championship, but they are going to need to tighten up and focus in order to come away with the final two wins.
Baylor hosted then-No. 25 Oklahoma State on Sunday, and there were a few questions during the match. If the Bears were going to come away with that win, they had to fight for it. The Cowboys came out swinging first, and Baylor showcased a weak doubles performance to start the match.
Seniors Mate Zsiga and Tony Lupieri looked flat and left holes in their defense on court two. The senior duo dropped the match 6-2 to OSU’s Nicolai Ferrigno and Lucas Gerch, and Baylor was forced to play from behind quickly.
Junior Felipe Rios and sophomore Vince Schneider turned their match around for a tight 7-6 (7-2) win at the No. 3 spot, so the doubles point was going to be decided on court one. Oklahoma State took a 6-5 lead late in the match, but junior Julian Lenz held his serve to sweep the next game and force a tiebreaker.
The tiebreaker was nothing to mess around with; every point mattered. Lenz and senior Diego Galeano edged OSU 7-4 in the tiebreaker to take the match and give Baylor the 1-0 lead. The doubles play was a big indicator that Baylor had to dig deep to find a way to overpower their opponent. They didn’t seem to do that well at all.
“We started out slow; we didn’t come out the way we would like to come out in doubles,” head coach Matt Knoll said. “We were honestly lucky to win with two tiebreakers in matches we could have lost.”
Rios wrapped up play on court six quickly to push Baylor out to a 2-0 lead, but a rain delay forced the Bears inside to the Hawkins Indoor Tennis Center for the remainder of the match. OSU fought back at several spots, but the final points came from sophomore Max Tchoutakian and Galeano to sweep the Cowboys 4-0 on Sunday.
“We are good, and we need to get our mentality right,” Galeano said. “We are here to win matches, and we can’t let one match destroy our season. We have to make sure we are ready to go. We are Baylor. We have to win.”
The Bears looked a little depleted on Sunday, and Friday’s match could have been the big rock holding them back. Despite a valiant effort in doubles play and on all six singles courts, the second-ranked Bears were edged 4-3 by the top-ranked Oklahoma Sooners on Friday night.
It was the third straight time that the Bears lost to the Sooners, and at the time, it was the most important match of the year.
“We’ve got to accept it, and we’ve got to fix things,” Zsiga said. “There’s no excuses. We lost, and we’re going to learn from it.”
The Bears won the doubles point at the No. 1 spot again on Friday with Lenz and Galeano taking a 7-6 (7-4) win for the 1-0 Baylor lead. However, that lead quickly switched in favor of Oklahoma as singles competitions were coming to a close.
Galeano and Lupieri were each swept in two sets, and a frustrating loss by Tchoutakian on court three gave the Sooners a huge 3-1 lead with only three matches remaining. There was almost no hope by the way things were going on courts one, five, and six, but Rios’ 5-7, 7-5, 6-4 win at the bottom of the lineup sparked some action at the No. 5 spot.
Zsiga turned his match around after dropping the second set, and there was a light that maybe Baylor could pull of the upset. The difference though was on court one. Top-ranked Lenz won set one in a tiebreaker, and he looked to be in control of the match versus No. 2 Axel Alvarez Llamas, but Llamas pulled the strings for the rest of the match.
Mixed results happened within seconds of each other. Zsiga won his 101st career match on court five, but a forehand hit into the net ended the match, crushing Baylor’s hope for a win.
“Our guys fought their tails off, and it just didn’t go our way,” Knoll said. “We’ve still got a lot of work to do. Everybody was just fighting as hard as they could fight, and you couldn’t ask any more as a coach.”
If the Bears want to come away with two more wins to finish the regular season, they need to fight. Friday and Sunday were not their best performances by far, so they need to dig deep in order to pull away against their next two opponents.
“We have to play as a team,” Galeano said. “We are going to Austin to play a tough match, and they have really good players. They are going to be really tough. If we get better every day and play how we are, then we’re going to be a good team at the end of the season.”
Baylor faces No. 10 Texas today at 5 p.m. in Austin, and it finishes Big 12 play in Lubbock when it battles the Texas Tech Red Raiders at 6 p.m. on Saturday.