ATHENS, Ga. -- Luicelena Perez overcame a 3-0 deficit in the second set to come back and clinch Alabama's 4-2 victory against Notre Dame on Thursday morning in the Lindsey Hopkins Indoor Facility on the campus of Georgia. With the win, the Crimson Tide advances to the program's first NCAA championship quarterfinals, where it will face seventh-seeded North Carolina at noon ET Saturday.
Alabama (25-4) won the doubles point and then took three of the five singles matches that finished to stay alive in the tournament."I liked what I saw today," Alabama head coach Jenny Mainz said. "I thought we competed well. We got our teeth in the match early and won a convincing doubles point. I liked what I saw overall. I felt like everyone competed well and competed hard. We got the 3-0 lead, but they're [Notre Dame] fighters. We knew that about them. They're a tenacious team and they play within themselves, so we knew we would have to finish, and I like the fact that we did."
Alabama got back-to-back wins on court Nos. 3 and 2 to earn the doubles point against Notre Dame (18-10). On court No. 3, Emily Zabor and Perez downed the Irish duo of Mary Closs and Molly O'Koniewski 8-3. Danielle Spielmann and Mary Anne Daines then secured the early advantage with an 8-4 victory after getting out to a hot start winning seven of the first eight games versus Notre Dame's Jennifer Kellner and Julie Sabacinski.
With only four indoors courts available indoors, positions one through four would begin singles, meaning the matchups at No. 5 and No. 6 would play on an if-necessary basis. Alabama got off to a quick start winning first sets across the board and would take a 3-0 lead in the match following a 6-4, 6-3 victory for Maya Jansen on court No. 4 and a 7-6(6), 6-2 win for Spielmann on court No. 2. The Irish would then split sets on court Nos. 1 and 3 and eventually take both of those matches in third sets, setting the overall team score at 3-2.
Following Notre Dame's victory on court No. 3, attention would turn to the other end of the courts where Zabor and Perez were both in first sets. Zabor, taking the court first, dropped her first set 6-3, but came back to take the second by a score of 6-4. Just before she split sets, Perez would earn a huge break to take her first lead of the second set at 5-4. Leading the next game 40-30, Perez put the ball in play and, after going back and forth for about 30 seconds, delivered a forehand that the Irish' Julie Vrabel sent into the net giving the Tide the victory. Perez has now won 14 consecutive singles matches to lead the Tide at No. 6.
"When I got to the court, we were winning, but I had a feeling that it would come down to me," Perez said. "The other matches were in the second set, third set and very close. I was pretty nervous, but I think that's normal. Once I start playing, and playing well, I got the momentum and the crowd was very helpful, and everything went great. The crowd made a huge difference."