Willamette Rallies from 4-0 Deficit to Defeat Hardin-Simmons, 5-4

Houser Provides Winning Point with Three-Set Victory at #4 Singles

By Robert McKinney, Athletics Communications Director, (503) 370-6110

SALEM, ORE. -- In college tennis, a team takes on each opponent with plans of winning every singles and doubles match. Sometimes, however, a few close matches go to the opponents and a team has to dig deep to battle back for an overall victory.

Such was the case late on Tuesday, March 15, when the Willamette University men's tennis team rallied from a 4-0 deficit to defeat Hardin-Simmons University (Texas), 5-4, at the Courthouse Tennis Club.

The deciding match was won by WU senior captain Matthew Houser (Vancouver, WA/Evergreen HS), who lost the first set before defeating Cullen Dees of HSU, 4-6, 6-4, 7-5.

Willamette, ranked #10 in the West Region of NCAA Division III, improved to 6-1 on the season. Hardin-Simmons fell to 5-6 overall, as the Cowboys ended their two-day trip to the Pacific Northwest with a 1-2 record after defeating George Fox University and losing to Willamette and Linfield College.

Hardin-Simmons took a 3-0 lead by winning all three doubles matches. At #1 doubles, Erich Bein and Sean Strehlow of HSU broke a 6-6 deadlock to defeat Michael Baumgartner (So., Albany, OR/West Albany HS) and Cody Ferguson (Jr., North Bend, OR/North Bend HS/Western Oregon Univ.), 8-6.

The Cowboys prevailed at #2 doubles, with Andy Cariens and Emmanuel Navejas outlasting Joshua Wong (So., Hilo, HI/Hilo HS) and Garrett Vincent (Fr., Seattle, WA/Seattle Prep/Bellevue CC), 8-6. At #3 doubles, Michael McCullough and Tony Record won for HSU against Houser and Will Cooper (Fr., Gresham, OR/Centennial HS), 8-5.

HSU increased its advantage to 4-0 when Bein defeated Wong at #2 singles. Bein won the match, 6-2, 6-1.

The results then started to move in Willamette's direction. Baumgartner downed Cariens at #1 singles, 6-1, 6-1. Vincent outlasted Gavin Ybarra at #5 singles, 6-4, 6-4, and Cooper defeated Strehlow at #6 singles, 6-4, 6-2. Hardin-Simmons still held the lead at 4-3.

In order to claim the team victory, the Bearcats not only had to win the final two singles matches, but Houser at #4 singles and Ferguson at #3 singles would need to rally after losing the opening set.

Ferguson completed his comeback first. Navejas won the the initial set in a tie-breaker, 7-6 (7-5). Ferguson evened the match with a 6-2 triumph in the second set, then blanked Navejas in the third set, 6-0.

With both teams focused on #4 singles, Houser and Dees played a highly-competitive match with plenty of quality tennis. Dees achieved a 6-3 win in the first set. Houser responded by taking the second set, 6-4. The third set was close throughout, as both competitors took turns claiming the momentum.

Houser owned a 2-1 lead. The next eight games resulted in service breaks, as Dees kept tying the set and Houser kept moving in front with a break of his own.

Even so, it took a rally in the 11th game of the set for Houser to gain an edge with the eighth consecutive break. Dees led 40-15 and was on the verge of holding serve to take a 6-5 advantage in the set. Houser battled back to win the game, pulling himself within one game of claiming the match.

Houser held serve to win the next game and achieve a 7-5 victory in the set, giving Willamette the 5-4 team triumph. The match, which began at about 9 p.m. due to the availability of courts, concluded at approximately 1 a.m. on Wednesday, March 16.

The Bearcats will return to action on Saturday, March 19 at the University of Redlands to start Willamette's Spring Break trip. Match time in Redlands, Calif., is slated for 10 a.m. (PDT).

WU is scheduled to play five matches in California, including in-region contests against Cal Tech and Occidental College, as well as out-of-region match-ups with Bowdoin College (Maine) and Trinity College (Conn.).

Willamette University 5
Hardin-Simmons University 4
Team captain Matthew Houser defeated Cullen Dees in the final match, 3-6, 6-4, 7-5.

Team captain Matthew Houser defeated Cullen Dees in the final match, 3-6, 6-4, 7-5.