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Drake reaches 20 wins after pair of road victories over Bradley, ISU

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No. 46 Drake notched its 19th and 20th wins of the season with victories over the Bradley Braves and the Illinois State Redbirds this past weekend. The Bulldogs kicked off their weekend with a 7-0 dismantling of Bradley and followed it up with a 6-1 victory over Illinois State.

The Bulldogs rushed out of the gate last Friday against Bradley with a solid doubles effort from all three teams. The top duo of juniors Anis Ghorbel and James McKie coasted to an 8-2 win over Bradley’s Justin Abrams and Juan Diego Cuadrado. Junior Jean Erasmus and sophomore Robin Goodman, Drake’s second doubles team, soon followed suit with an 8-3 win over Ahmed Albitar and Hamish Weerasinghe.

The only doubles match to go the distance was at the third slot, where senior Cesar Bracho and freshman Alen Salibasic eventually defeated Bradley’s Ashton Kalhorn and Arthur Romanet 8-7 (7) in a tiebreaker to sweep the doubles point.

The Bulldogs didn’t let up in singles play either, as freshman Ben Mullis quickly pushed Drake’s lead to 2-0 with a 6-2, 6-0 win over Abrams at the sixth position. Minutes later, it was Goodman who put the Bulldogs within one match of victory, as he beat Bradley’s Romanet 6-2, 6-1 at the fifth position.

After battling to get the first set 7-5, Ghorbel clinched the match for Drake at the top singles position with a 7-5, 6-0 win.

Despite having no chance to win the match, the Braves didn’t give up in the remaining matches. At the second singles position, Bradley’s Weerasinghe rallied from one set down to push the match to a third set super-tiebreaker against McKie. McKie proved he was the superior player in the tiebreaker, though, as he didn’t drop a single point to win 6-1, 4-6, 10-0.

Senior Jonathan Hadash posted a 6-2, 7-5 straight-set win over Bradley’s Kalhorn at the third singles position. Salibasic then made it a clean sweep as he won 7-6 (1), 5-7, 10-6 in the most highly contested match of the day.

“It was good to get the sweep going into the match against Illinois State, especially when it is never as easy going on the road,” head coach Evan Austin said. “But give Bradley’s guys credit. They competed hard out there.”

Drake’s biggest challenge of the weekend came last Saturday when it took on the Redbirds of Illinois State. Drake, Illinois State and Wichita State are the three frontrunners to take the Missouri Valley Conference title this season, with Drake being the overall favorite. The Bulldogs validated their status as the favorite with a 6-1 win over the Redbirds, and it all kicked off with winning the doubles point.

The Bulldogs struck first, dominating at the second and third doubles positions. Erasmus and Goodman led the way for Drake, as the duo quickly captured an 8-2 win over Tuomas Manner and Willi Peter of the Redbirds. Bracho and Salibasic followed that up with an 8-3 win at the third spot to grant the Bulldogs a 1-0 lead.

Ghorbel and McKie forced the match to a tiebreaker at the top spot against Alexander Pelaez and Jusso Ojanen, but the Drake duo fell 8-6 in the tiebreaker.

In singles play, McKie pushed the lead to 2-0 after easily dispatching of Manner 6-3, 6-1 at the second singles position. Salibasic soon added a 6-2, 6-2 win over Peter at the fifth position to put the Bulldogs on the cusp of their 20th victory of the season.

Hadash, playing at the third singles position, clinched the match for Drake with a dominant 6-4, 6-2 win over Illinois State’s Skip Span. Hadash, who had been sidelined much of last year and the start of this year due to injury, has been one of the surprises of the conference season for the Bulldogs, as he has been performing incredibly well at the third position in the last few matches.

“Last year, Jonathan was in and out with some injuries and that held him back a little bit,” Austin said. “But this year, since day one, he has been able to keep his fitness up, and that has been the big difference for him.”

“We knew if he was healthy and confident and where he needed to be mentally, he is capable of beating almost anyone,” Austin added. “A lot of the pressure is off, and he is out there playing well.”

Mullis advanced Drake’s lead to 5-0 with a 6-1, 6-2 win over Jordan Badenko. The first singles loss of the weekend came at the top singles slot, where Pelaez defeated Ghorbel 6-2, 3-6, 11-9 in a super-tiebreaker in lieu of a complete third set. The two are the frontrunners for MVC player of the year, and the title will likely be decided by whoever goes undefeated during the conference season and by whoever defeats the other in the MVC tournament.

Goodman moved Drake’s final tally to 6-1 with a 6-4, 4-6, 10-6 win over Ojanen. Goodman said that Ojanen is one of the best players in the conference at the fourth singles position, so beating him was a big result for him.

Austin said that the win over Illinois State was a big win for his team, but that they could play even better in the future.

“This team does a good job for rising to the occasion during the big matches, and we knew we had to pick our level up for Illinois State,” he said. “It’s one that we can build confidence from to finish out the season.”

Drake’s next match is this Sunday at the Roger Knapp Tennis Center outdoor courts. The match against the Southern Illinois Salukis starts at 11 a.m.

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