By Nick Johnson
The Colonels earned their first trip to the NCAA tournament by winning the OVC championship this weekend in Paducah, Ky.The Colonels ran their winning-streak to 11 matches as they defeated Tennessee Tech in the tournament finals 4-2, after beating Austin Peay 4-0 in the semifinals.
Eastern will now await the results of this weekend’s other conference championships to see who they will play in the NCAA tournament. The NCAA’s begin on May 14.
“Our guys, for the last 12 months, have been focused on getting this done,” Coach Rob Oertel said. “They were left with a very empty feeling when we lost to Jacksonville State last year. We knew we had a strong core group of players coming back this year. We were focused on winning the OVC tournament this year. We expected this and we attained our goal.”
Eastern (18-8) entered the conference tournament as the regular season OVC champions and the tournament’s top seed. The Colonels boasted an undefeated 7-0 record in conference play.
The OVC tournament began for the Colonels with the semifinal matchup against Austin Peay (8-6) on Saturday. The Governors made the semifinals by defeating Morehead State 4-2 in their first round match.
The Colonels grabbed the early lead in the match by winning the first two doubles matches. The pairings of Hugo Klientovsky and Carles Pons (no. 3 pair) and Alex Das and Carlos Valdenebro (no. 2 pair) each picked up wins for the Colonels.
In singles, Valdenebro (no. 5) earned the first win for Eastern with a 6-2, 6-1 straight set victory over Amar Subasic.
Philip Janz (no. 4) continued his unbeaten streak in OVC play with a 6-4, 6-0 victory over Renan Bezerra.
The win was Janz seventh victory in singles against OVC opponents without a loss.
Das, who was named OVC Player of the Year before the tournament, clinched the overall match for the Colonels in his matchup against the Governors’ Sean Bailey at the no. 1 position. Das defeated Bailey with a 6-3, 7-6 victory to send the Colonels to the conference championship game for the second consecutive year.
“Alex is such a strong player,” Oertel said. “Its almost inhuman how focused he is. His scores, output and productivity on the court this season have been amazing.”
Das has a nine-match winning streak heading into the NCAA’s and hasn’t lost a set since the Morehead match in March.
The championship match on Sunday saw a matchup of the tournament’s top two seeds as Eastern faced off against Tennessee Tech.The Golden Eagles (11-5) only OVC loss came in Richmond as the Colonels picked up a 5-2 win in March.
Eastern earned the OVC title with a comeback win against Tech.
The Colonels lost the first doubles match as Tech’s Josh Girling and Nicholas Stafford won the no. 1 doubles match 8-5 over Janz and Niklas Schroeder.
However, the Colonels responded as Klientovsky and Pons picked up a win in the no. 3 doubles match, 8-4 over Tech’s Oscar Pachon and Arturo Santa Ruiz.
Das and Valdenebro clinched the doubles point by winning the no. 2 doubles match 9-7 over Alex Chen and Lloyd Harris.
In singles the Colonels would again have to come from behind as Tech won the first two singles matches to take the overall lead in the match 2-1.
Girling defeated Schroeder 6-0, 6-2 in the no. 2 matchup, and Pachon defeated Pons 6-1, 6-0. Pons, a Second Team All-OVC selection, hadn’t lost a singles match against an OVC opponent this season.
“Tech was very focused on beating us from day 1 this season,” Oertel said. “We knew we had a target on our chests.”
For Eastern, Valdenebro tied the overall match at 2-2 with his win in the no. 5 singles match. Valdenebro defeated Santa Ruiz 7-6, 6-0.
Klientovsky, a First Team All-OVC selection, gave the Colonels the lead with a 6-0, 6-2 win over Tech’s Stafford.
“Adding Hugo to our roster this offseason really put us over the top,” Oertel said. “He just puts us on a whole other level.”
Once again Das clinched the match, and this time the OVC Championship, for the Colonels. In a matchup of First Team All-OVC honorees, Das defeated Chen 6-3, 6-2.
By winning the OVC tournament, the Colonels earned the conference’s automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. The win over Tech concluded an OVC season were Eastern went undefeated against conference opponents. As a result, four Colonels were honored as First or Second Team All-OVC selections. Along with Das and Klientovsky, Schroeder was also chosen as a member of the First Team All-OVC Men’s Tennis Team.
Oertel was also honored as the OVC Coach of the Year. This was the third time in the last four years Oertel has received that award.
The Colonels will now focus on whoever they will play in the NCAA tournament.
“No matter who we play, I feel like we can compete with any team in the country,” Oertel said.
The NCAA will release the field and pairings for the NCAA tournament at 3p.m. on Tuesday May 4th. The tournament pairings will also be unveiled on ESPN news at 5 p.m.