ATHENS, Ga. – In front of a boisterous hometown crowd, No. 7 Pepperdine upset No. 3 Georgia 4-3 to advance to the semifinals of the NCAA Championship. Senior Alex Llompart came through in the clutch, winning in three sets to clinch the victory for the Waves.
This is the second time head coach Adam Steinberg has marched Pepperdine into the semifinals of the tournament. The last time the Waves reached the semifinals was during the 2006 season, when they would go on to win the program’s first NCAA Championship title.
“It’s just an incredible feeling,” said Steinberg in a post-match preconference. “What a great college match. I’m so proud of the guys.
“Manny’s [Diaz] teams are so well coached and coming out and winning the doubles point was so big because I thought ‘wow we can really do this.’ It made a believer out of everybody.”
With the victory, the Waves extend their streak to 24 in a row as they improve to 27-6 overall this season.
Georgia ends the season at 26-3. Kentucky and USC were the only other teams to get the upper hand on the Bulldogs in 2012.
The match was tight from start to finish, beginning with a doubles point that the Waves emerged victorious from. Although the Bulldogs took a 3-1 lead in singles, Pepperdine remained strong and was able to lay claim to the final three points.
Similar to yesterday versus Tulsa, the doubles point came down to the final match. Llompart and Finn Tearney got the Waves off to a strong start, downing Hernus Pieters and Sadio Doumbia, 8-1.
Sebastian Fanselow and Jenson Turner fought diligently, but were unable to get any momentum going. The duo fell to Nathan Pasha and Ignacio Taboada, ranked No. 40 in the ITA doubles rankings, 8-5.
Meanwhile on court three, David Sofaer and Hugh Clarke fell behind a break early on but with a return down the line, Sofaer put the Waves back on serve. Although KU Singh and Wil Spencer threatened to break serve again, Clarke and Sofaer continued to hold until the score was knotted at 7-7.
After Sofaer held serve, the Pepperdine pair took a 40-30 lead in the subsequent game. At match point, Sofaer returned the serve and Spencer sailed it wide to give the Waves the break, and clinch the doubles point.
It was Clarke and Sofaer’s 19th-consecutive win in dual match play. Their current winning percentage of .889 (24-3) is tied for sixth in the Pepperdine’s single-season record book (dual matches only).
Play was even closer in singles, but the Waves managed to win four of the six first sets. Despite the early advantage, Georgia stormed back and posted a two-set decision on court four to knot the score at one.
Singh put the go-ahead point on the board for the home team with a 7-6, 6-2 triumph versus Tearney. The momentum continued to swing in the Bulldogs’ favor, thanks in part to the partisan crowd. Pasha edged Clarke in three sets to extend the lead to 3-1.
Pepperdine got back on track when Turner gritted out a 6-4, 7-6 win against Pieters. The senior relied on a strong first serve to tip the scales in his favor during the tiebreaker.
The Waves were still in a must-win situation, and Fanselow came up huge, knotting the score at 3-all after defeating Spencer 6-3, 3-6, 6-4.
Llompart, who won the first frame 7-2 in the tiebreaker, found himself up 5-2 in the second set but was unable to put the match away. Doumbia fought back to tie the stanza at 6-6, and rode the momentum to a 7-2 win in the tiebreaker to force a third set.
Llompart, Pepperdine’s senior captain, found himself down 15-40 but held serve to even the set at 2-2. He continued to play well, and earned what was to be the only break of the set to go up 3-2. Despite falling behind break point on multiple occasions, Llompart dug deep and was able to hold out for the 6-4 win to clinch the dual.
“I couldn’t let my teammates down,” said Llompart. “They got me through that last set and I’m happy I could get the win for the Waves.”
The senior was greeted by his teammates, who raised him up on their shoulders in front of a stunned Bulldog crowed of 3,167.
“I’m so proud of Alex for pulling that out after giving up that second set, and coming back against, to me, one of the best college players I the country,” said Steinberg of his senior.