By DJ Ramirez | Sports Editor
It was a dog fight from wire to wire but the second-seeded Baylor men’s tennis team was able to take down TCU 4-3 Sunday at the Hurd Tennis Center to advance to the Big 12 Tournament title match. Grad transfer Spencer Furman clinched the match for the Bears in a three-set battle on court six, putting away TCU’s Tadeas Paroulek 6-4, 3-6, 7-5 in a resilient victory.
“Our backs were against the wall after the doubles and we were able to respond,” head coach Michael Woodson said. “That was something we talked a lot about last night, was it wasn’t going to be as easy as it was last week, that they’re going to be ready. I think we surprised them last weekend and we knew we were going to get their best effort.”
No. 3 Baylor was down early, dropping the doubles point on courts one and three. Grad transfer Charlie Broom and third-year sophomore Finn Bass fought back to make it 3-2 early on court three but ultimately fell 6-2 when the Horned Frog duo of Jake Fearnley and Bertus Kruger picked up the next three games.
No. 12-ranked fifth-year senior Constantin Frantzen and fourth-year junior Sven Lah were in the thick of it against seventh-ranked Alastair Gray and Luc Fomba on the top court. The Bears picked up the first game but TCU tied it at 1-1 and then took a 2-1 lead. Frantzen and Lah kept the set close but trailed the rest of the way, falling 6-4 to put the Horned Frogs on the board.
Lah quickly got Baylor back in the match with the first singles win of the day. In a rematch of last regular season contest last Sunday, the Ptuj, Slovenia native avenged his loss to No. 105 Fearnley in Fort Worth with a 6-1, 6-2 victory on court four. Lah, who’s struggled in conference play this season, said play in the semifinal compared to his last match was like night and day.
“Today just felt right,” Lah said. “It’s one of those moments where you put in a good work of practice for a short period. Just going out there and trusting your shots and we just kind of turned on. If I can bring this level, this close for the rest of the season, I’ll be happy with the way I compete and my results will get better too. It doesn’t matter if you win or lose, it matters the way you play and compete. That’s the most important thing to do and focus on first.”
Broom followed with Baylor’s second point, defeating No. 100 Tomas Jirousek 6-3, 6-3 on court five. The Brit tapped a shot over the net into the front court while up 40-30 in the final game, making it difficult for the Horned Frog to return. No. 41 third-year sophomore Adrian Boitan added the third point for the Bears in a tough match with Gray on the top court, taking down the 12th-ranked British junior 6-4, 6-4.
Fomba cut Baylor’s lead to one, defeating fourth-year junior Matias Soto on court two. The eighth-ranked Bear fell 4-6, 5-7, and exited the court with assistance after sustaining an injury. Grad transfer Nick Stachowiak was the next to fall, fighting back after dropping the first set against No. 75 Sander Jong in another rematch from last weekend. Stachowiak took set two but was unable to get the win, sending an arching shot out of bounds to fall 3-6, 6-3, 3-6 on court three.
It all came down to Furman. The Seattle native was up 3-0 to start the final set but Paroulek was not going to make it easy. The Horned Frog faced match point three times and managed to tie the game 5-5, slashing a shot cross court out of Furman’s reach. Paroulek volleyed Furman’s next serve out-of-bounds, then Furman drove back-to-back shots down the line to go up 40-0 before bouncing one juts past the midline and take the 6-5 lead. Furman then fought back a 0-15 start in the final game, driving his winning shot across the court in the back corner to clinch the match.
“I felt like doubles was so close, but we got down on a lot of courts early and we ended up losing that doubles point,” Furman said. “As I looked over in singles, we got off to a really good start which we needed. I was next to Sven and he got off quick, which was huge to see that momentum. That definitely gave me encouragement.”
The Bears will enter their 17th conference title match in program history, their third-consecutive, meeting once more with Texas. Baylor has competed with the Longhorns three times already this spring, picking up a win in Austin in January, a win in the indoor championship quarterfinal in Illinois and a loss at home during conference play. Baylor is looking to wash away their lone Big 12 defeat at 2 p.m. Monday in the Hurd Tennis Center.
“There aren’t going to be any secrets playing for the fourth time,” Woodson said of facing Texas in the final. “They got the better of us last time. I think they were hungrier than us, they came out swinging with nothing to lose since we had beaten them a couple times this year and they really took it to us. They had better energy, they played with more courage and it worked out for them. I think we learned a lot from that match and I know that was a big driving force for doing well today, that we want to play them again. We certainly don’t want to lose to a team twice on our home courts, so I think the guys are going to be fired up. I feel like we’re playing well and it will be anybody’s match. We’re looking forward to it.”