Latela clinches West Florida's spot in Round of 16 with win against Lynn
PENSACOLA, Fla. -- With the score tied 4-4 and a trip to the Round of 16 on the line, Elio Latela clinched an Argonaut victory by winning his second singles set in a tiebreaker in front of more than 200 fans Sunday at the Ralph “Skeeter” Carson Tennis Complex.
Of the 16 men’s NCAA Regional Finals matches, nationally-ranked No. 3 West Florida had the toughest opponent in No. 4 Lynn to face to advance to the Round of 16. The Argonauts (25-1) led 2-1 after doubles and 4-1 a third of the way into singles before the Fighting Knights (17-6) came back to tie the match 4-4.
“It was a firestorm that’s for sure,” UWF coach Derrick Racine said. “Doubles was like two hours long. Singles was no easier. Singles went down to the wire. It was a battle that we’re glad we won.”
With Latela’s win to clinch the 5-4 victory, the Argos extended their winning streak to 20 and their home winning streak against DII opponents to 32.
“Last year I got to watch Dom (Domenico Sano) do the same thing,” Latela said of winning the final point of the match to go to nationals. “I didn’t really want it to come down to me, but the support was amazing. It was probably the best match I’ve ever played at home.”
The win gave fifth-year senior Kevin Ducros a win in his final match at the Ralph “Skeeter” Carson Tennis Complex.
“I tried to do my best,” Ducros said. “I knew it was my last match, so I tried to give everything. I’m kind of sad now, because I know I won’t be able to play again with my teammates at home. But, I’m looking forward to nationals.”
In a highly-touted match between nationally-ranked doubles teams, No. 4 Ducros and Bruno Savi (Santana do Livramento, Brazil/Auburn Montgomery) scored the first point of the day for UWF, downing No. 3 Vlad Cirla and Willi Wolfer, 8-5, at No. 1 doubles.
Tony Rajaobelina and Domenico Sano lost a tight match, 8-6, at No. 2 doubles as the Fighting Knights tied things up 1-1.
But Latela and Felipe Frattini won 9-8 (8-6) in a marathon match that was decided by a tiebreaker at No. 3 doubles to put UWF up 2-1.
“Felipe was phenomenal,” Latela said. “He held in there. He hung tough. When I got a little bit tense, he was always there. It was a huge effort from him.”
No. 43 Rajaobelina would be the first to finish a singles match at No. 3, cruising to a 6-1, 6-2 to victory. No. 3 Savi followed suit with a 6-2, 6-0 victory at No. 2 singles, but even with the 4-1 UWF advantage, Lynn wouldn’t go down without a fight.
The Argos lost at Nos. 1, 5 and 6 singles to even the score 4-4.
With all eyes on nationally-ranked No. 45 Latela, the sophomore clinched the match victory with a 6-2, 7-6 (7-2) victory at No. 4.
“The guy was really good,” Latela said of his opponent, nationally-ranked No. 47 Alessio Iannozzi. “He was playing tough. I had to beat him today. He didn’t give me anything.”
The Argos advanced to the NCAA Finals last season before falling to Armstrong 5-0 to finish 28-3. It is the 12th time that UWF has advanced to the Round of 16 since joining DII in 1997.
“We’ve been working so hard for that moment,” Ducros said. “Even though we lost last year in the final, we knew we had the team to go back again and play the best teams in the nation.”
The NCAA Championships will be held May 8-11 in Surprise, Ariz. at the Surprise Tennis and Racquet Complex.
“We’re going to take it one match at a time and point by point,” Latela said. “All the teams are going to be good. We’re going to have to fight like crazy. We’re looking for a good fight, and that’s what we want. We want to fight and we want to win.”