Georgia State came back from 3-0 deficit to defeat Middle Tenn. in Sun Belt final
LAFAYETTE, La. -- In a nail-biting match that came down to the No. 4 and 6 singles matches, Georgia State won the Sun Belt Conference title against Middle Tennessee to earn an automatic berth to the NCAA tournament.
The Panthers fell behind 3-0 after dropping the doubles point and losing singles matches at the No. 2 and 5 positions. Georgia State (14-10) mounted a comeback, beginning with a straight-set victory by senior Victor Valente on court No. 1. Following Valente’s singles win, senior Lucas Santa Ana came back from dropping the first set to win a 1-6, 6-2, 6-2 match at the No. 3 position.
MTSU led the team score 3-2 as the match came down to two singles contests on courts No. 4 and 6. Freshman Paul Schuette took a dramatic 6-4, 2-6, 7-6 (4) win at the No. 6 position, fighting off six match points while on serve and down 5-6 in the third set.
Schuette’s win set up the deciding contest at the No. 4 singles spot. Schulze forced a third set after dropping the first set 3-6 and winning the second 6-4. The third set evened up at four before Schulze took a 5-4 lead on his serve. The match evened up at five before MTSU’s Ettore Zito broke serve to take a 6-5 lead against Schulze.
Schulze then fell behind 15-40 in the next game and faced two match points. From that point on, Schulze won 10 consecutive points, fighting off both match points, earning a break and taking a 6-0 lead in the following tiebreaker in the process. At 6-0 in the tiebreaker, Schulze lost his first point and still remained ahead 6-1. At 6-1, Schulze fired his second serve wide from the advantage side and approached the net looking to volley the return. His forehand volley went to the left side just inside the line and deep, forcing Zito to fire his forehand long to give GSU the title. Schulze’s 3-6, 6-4, 7-6 (7-1) win clinched the match for GSU.
Valente began the Georgia State comeback at the top singles position. Valente defeated MTSU’s Ben Davis 6-3, 6-1. It was Valente’s second victory against Davis this season and the win improved his record to 8-0 against Sun Belt Conference opponents.
Santa Ana fell behind early by dropping the first set 6-1. He mounted a comeback that began in the second set when he got an early break and eventually won the set 6-2. He came back in the third set and used another early break to finish off a 1-6, 6-2, 6-2 victory against MTSU’s Christoph Lang.
Schuette took his first set by a 6-4 margin before falling in the second set 6-2. Schuette, a freshman, was down 6-5 and was serving. He fought off six match points during that game to force a third-set tiebreaker. In the tiebreaker, he broke serve early to gain an advantage and eventually won by a 7-4 margin.
“The team could not be more excited to win this championship in our first year in the Sun Belt Conference,” first-year head coach Joerg Barthel said. “We played tough when it mattered at the end of our season, which was our goal at the beginning of the year. I am excited that our two seniors, Victor and Lucas, get to play in the NCAA tournament for the first time in their careers. When it mattered, our guys stepped up and played like champions. I am so proud of how our team competed.”
Schulze was named the Most Outstanding Performer of the Sun Belt Conference Championship.