ATHENS, GA. — Southern California made history with its first win against Stanford in an NCAA Tournament since 1983. The Women of Troy proved their grit in refusing to back down when the Cardinal took leads on all but one singles court. The Trojans had claimed a dramatic doubles point, but saw Stanford tie the score at 2-2 before making a determined stand on courts 2-4.
In the end, it was a set of three three-set comeback efforts from Gabriella DeSimone, Danielle Lao and Sabrina Santamaria that brought home the 4-2 win.
USC reined in the doubles point with a dramatic comeback to take an important early edge in the match. USC’s combo of Alison Ramos and Danielle Lao buckled into a tight match on court three and wound up securing one last break to clinch the point for USC.
Lao/Ramos’ heroics followed a tough battle on court one, where USC’s No. 3 Kaitlyn Christian and Sabrina Santamaria held off a late surge by Stanford’s No. 2 Burdette/Gibbs in a rematch of the 2012 Pac-12 Doubles Championship. The reigning champs, Christian/Santamaria put forth a powerful tandem in the final game to hold serve on strong net play by Christian, and USC had the doubles scene even with their 8-6 decision.
Stanford had managed the early advantage with a well-timed break late in the matchup on court two, as the No. 24 Cardinal pair Tan/Tsay pulled out of a 5-5 tie with USC’s No. 49 Valeria Pulido / Zoe Scandalis to win 8-5. The Trojans would respond to the challenge, however, as Christian/Santamaria and Lao/Ramos ramped up the USC effort to get the 1-0 lead. Christian/Santamaria’s win marked the pair’s ninth consecutive win together.
Stanford responded to the Trojan advantage by moving to win the first sets on every court but No. 3. The equalizer came on court one for the Cardinal, where No. 3 Nicole Gibbs topped USC’s No. 14 Zoe Scandalis 6-1, 6-4. But there was a tide turning in the Trojans favor on court five, where Gabriella DeSimone finally made herself comfortable in her first NCAA visit. DeSimone erased a 1-6 loss in the first set with near-complete domination in the next two sets.
She built a 3-0 lead in the second and forced a third with her 6-2 win. In the third, she cruised ahead 5-0 and then buckled down to put the Trojans up 2-1 with her 1-6, 6-2, 6-2 win against Ellen Tsay. In a rare sag for Valeria Pulido, USC saw Stanford even it up again when Pulido’s 16-match singles win streak was snapped by a 6-4, 7-5 Cardinal victory on court six by Veronica Li.
The match hung in the balance from there, but there were still three very determined Women of Troy playing side-by-side and feeding off of each other. No. 19 USC’s Danielle Lao had her hands full with Stanford’s No. 5 Mallory Burdette on court two. But Lao managed to turn the tables and pull out a strong second set to force a third. There, Lao fell behind 3-4 around the same time that her teammate — No. 26 Sabrina Santamaria — was trying to dig out of a 2-5 deficit on court three. At the No. 4 spot, Kaitlyn Christian was making her move to avoid a sweep and force a third.
And with that combined effort, the Trojans were able to find a spark. Lao shrugged off a 3-4 deficit and held, then broke Burdette in a key game that set up Lao to serve for the win. Santamaria, also, ignored a 2-5 deficit and clawed her way back. She would get broken in her last game as Stanford’s No. 25 Stacey Tan brought the match into a deciding tiebreaker, but she did not account for Santamaria’s final gutsy push.
Lao finished off Burdette first, holding serve to claim a 4-6, 6-2, 6-4 comeback that lifted USC within reach, up 3-2. Santamaria was all business in her tiebreaker, remaining unrattled with Tan fought back to tie it 4-4 and 5-5. Santamaria’s heroics were capped with the last two points, and she won the day for the Trojans on her 7-5, 1-6, 7-6 (5) victory at the No. 3 spot.