MOBILE, Ala. — The 25th-ranked McPherson College men's tennis team took its NAIA Championship first-round opponent to the limit for the second year in a row, this time coming out on the winning end of a 5-4 decision over 12th-ranked University of Northwestern Ohio Tuesday afternoon at the Mobile Tennis Center.
With temperatures soaring into the mid-to-upper 90s with high humidity, the Bulldogs (15-3) faced a 2-1 deficit after doubles.
Jacob Turley and Andreas Huber picked up a commanding 8-3 win over Artur Culicovschi and Alfredo Barcelo on Court 2, but McPherson missed a couple of opportunities on the other two courts. Julien Bodin and Daan Coppelmans were tripped up by Marcos Salazar and Lars Kaplusch, 8-6, on Court 3 and Ahmed Lahlou and Hector Carrillo Perales were edged by Radu Popa and Iustin Baciu in a tiebreaker, 9-8 (5), on Court 1.
Once attention turned to singles play, the Bulldogs took the first set in four of six matches. The Racers (13-6) grabbed the first point, though, extending their lead to 3-1 when Salazar posted a 6-1, 6-4 win over Carrillo on court two.
McPherson battled back to tie the match at 3-3 with wins from Juan Alejandro Jimenez and Huber. Jimenez defeated Kaplusch, 6-2, 6-2, while Huber topped Barcelo, 6-0, 7-5.
The Bulldogs surged in front when Turley posted a 6-3, 6-3 win over Culicovschi, but the win was countered almost immediately by a 6-4, 6-2 win by Baciu over Bodin, shifting all of the focus to the last match on court between Lahlou and Popa.
Lahlou got off to a quick start, leading 4-0 in the first set before settling for a 6-4 victory. Leading 4-3 in the second set, he and Popa each held serve to push the score to 5-4. With Popa serving to extend the match, Lahlou won the first three points to build a 0-40 lead and give himself triple match point. Popa erased one match point, but couldn't handle Lahlou's return of serve at 40-15 and sent the ball long to give Lahlou the game and match and the Bulldogs the victory.
It is McPherson's second win at the NAIA Championships. The Bulldogs defeated Graceland University, 5-4, in their initial trip to nationals in 2015. McPherson - at No. 22 - also became the lowest-seeded team to record a first-round victory since the NAIA began seeding the entire 24-team field in 2015.
McPherson advances to today's second round where it will face sixth-ranked Cumberland University (21-2). First serve is slated for 1 p.m. at the Mobile Tennis Center.