Photo: Taylor Soule
Drake beat its second nationally ranked opponent of the season last Thursday when it defeated the No. 74 East Tennessee State Buccaneers 6-1.
The Bulldogs kicked off the match in impressive fashion as they put on what was arguably their finest doubles performance of the young season. Head coach Evan Austin switched up the doubles teams, and he may have found a winning formula. Sophomore Robin Goodman and junior Jean Erasmus, at the third position, were the first to notch a doubles win as the two easily dispatched of Juan Ramirez and Jorge Varon 8-2.
The tandem of juniors James McKie and Anis Ghorbel clinched the lone doubles point with an 8-5 win over Jesus Bandres and Sander Gille. Senior Cesar Bracho and freshman Alen Salibasic made it a sweep of the doubles matches right afterwards as the two Bulldogs also won 8-5, taking out Robin Akser and Jeremy Bonnevalle.
“It was definitely good to finally figure out our doubles pairs and be able to be confident on the court,” Ghorbel said. “I feel like we are going to be much more confident looking for the doubles point from this point on.”
The Bulldogs didn’t slow down a bit entering singles play. Goodman took on Bonnevalle at the fifth singles spot, which was a battle of similar styles as each player utilized a powerful forehand and a one-handed backhand. Goodman was too strong for his opponent, though, and he extended the Bulldogs’ margin to 2-0 on the strength of a 6-3, 6-4 win.
McKie pushed the lead to 3-0 with a decisive 6-2, 6-3 win over Ramirez. The Drake captain was simply too solid throughout the match, never allowing his opponent any breathing room.
“I played a very solid match all the way through, and my opponent couldn’t really deal with the faster ball,” McKie said.
Despite holding a 3-0 advantage, the conclusion of the match was far from decided. The remaining four Bulldogs on court had all dropped the first set to their ETSU opponents, so at least one of four would have to win in a third set to win the match. The Bulldogs inched one step closer to victory as all four Bulldogs won the second set.
The Buccaneers weren’t ready to lie down without a fight as Salibasic dropped his match to Akser 6-4, 2-6, 6-2 at the fourth singles position.
Fortunately for Drake, Erasmus had caught fire at the second singles position after dropping the first set in a tiebreaker and being down 0-3 in the second set. The Drake junior won four straight games to take a 4-3 advantage in the second set, and soon thereafter, he won the set 6-4. With the momentum clearly on his side, Erasmus sprinted towards the finish line and won the third set 6-2 to win his match and clinch the match for the Bulldogs.
The rest of the Bulldogs continued to roll over the Buccaneers, as freshman Ben Mullis coasted to a 4-6, 6-1, 6-1 victory at the sixth position.
“I feel in my match specifically it was a case of adapting my strategy slightly after the loss of the first set,” Mullis said.
The last match of the day was the closest, as Ghorbel was in a fierce battle at the top spot against Gille. After failing to capitalize on two set points in the first set, Ghorbel ended up losing the first set in a tiebreaker. Despite not playing his best tennis, the Drake junior fought back to take the second set 6-4. The third set also went the distance, but this time it was Ghorbel who won the set, and the match, in the tiebreaker, 7-5.
“It was tough playing him because reading his shots wasn’t easy at all with his weird swings,” Ghorbel said. “I didn’t play my best tennis but I fought hard to find solutions to win the important points.”
Mullis said that the team showed tremendous resiliency in singles play.
“To be a set down on four of the six singles and to come back and win three of them really shows what our team is made of,” Mullis said. “It sends out a message to all the other teams that if they want to beat us, we aren’t going down without a fight.”
In their second match of the week, the Bulldogs took on the University of Nebraska — Kearney Lopers. Drake cruised to a 7-0 victory to move to 6-1 on the season.
The Bulldogs swept the doubles point, dropping only six games throughout three matches. The duos of Bracho/Salibasic and Erasmus/Goodman once against took the court, but this time at the first and second positions, respectively. The first doubles tandem won 8-4 while the second team won 8-0. Junior Ryan Drake and Mullis teamed up to form the third doubles team, and they won 8-2.
Drake expanded its lead in singles play, led by Bracho’s 6-0, 6-0 win at the fifth singles spot. Goodman moved up to the third singles position, and he also made quick work of his opponent with a 6-1, 6-1 win.
Salibasic, the reigning Missouri Valley Conference Player of the Week, clinched the match with a 6-2, 6-2 victory at the second singles slot.
The Bulldogs made it a clean sweep with straight-set victories from Mullis, Erasmus and freshman Grant Tesmer.
The Bulldogs took on Northern Illinois yesterday, and details from that match will be available in the next issue of The Times-Delphic.