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After an up-and-down start to the season, the Cal Poly men’s tennis team found reprise as well as its biggest win of the season at home on Friday afternoon against New Mexico. The Mustangs (4-3) won 4-3 over a No. 58 Lobos team that is used to playing their home matches indoors.
“Well first of all it feels good,” head coach Nick Carless said after the match. “I’m happy for the guys on the team. They’re so young and they work so hard and they’ve wanted this kind of opportunity. As a coach I’m just happy for them after the start we had to the season.”
After winning their first two matches of the season, the Mustangs came into Friday’s match losing three of their last four.
“They really did things the right way today and I told them before the match if we do things the right way we can be happy with ourselves,” Carless said.
After the Lobos took a 1-0 lead when they won two out of the three opening doubles matches, senior Naveen Beasley got the Mustangs on the board when he defeated New Mexico’s James Hignett in straight sets to start singles play.
The Mustangs took the lead minutes later when sophomore Ben Donovan, pitted against the Lobos’ Mitchell McDaniels on the first position court, came back from a 4-1 disadvantage in the second set to take down McDaniels in another two-set match.
“He’s a good player, he’s a smart player he had a lot of neutralizing shots — deep soft balls that really hurt me there in the beginning of the second set,” Donovan said. “But I was really able to figure it out there at the end.”
After a hard-fought first set that quickly pushed both players to their limit, Donovan not only found confidence from the fans behind him, but also from the elements around him.
“I was honestly hurting physically when I was down 4-1 and at 4-all,” he said, “But I knew he had to be worse. There’s no way that I’m training out here every day and playing out here that he’s feeling better than me.”
The win added to the list of several matches won by Donovan this season which had him playing from behind late into sets.
“I’ve found myself in that position a lot,” Donovan said after the match. “I’ve been working with coach Hughes on that but most of the matches I’ve won this year have been when I’m down either a set or a break really looking like I’m going to lose, but I’m pretty comfortable in those situations in staying focused and staying committed to the game that my coaches are telling me to play.”
The nationally ranked Lobos were not going to go down without a fight, however, following the Donovan win that put the Mustangs up 2-1 on the day. New Mexico’s Jorge Escutia tied up the match moments later with a 4-6, 6-0, 6-3 in the No. 6 spot over Mustangs freshman Karl Enander.
Cal Poly would respond in a big way with sophomores Garrett Auproux and Corey Pang both pulling out victories in lengthy three-set battles that gave the Mustangs their third and fourth points.
“He had a tough weekend last weekend and really got back to some of the things he does well on the court,” Carless said of Auproux’s win. “To see him get a tough first set and lose the second set and come back and win the third will go a long way for his confidence.”
Auproux, who won his match 7-6, 4-6, 6-3, was followed by Pang who found himself in the midst of a testy battle on court No. 3.
After letting the first set get away 4-6, Pang came back with a decisive 6-1 second-set win. Neck and neck late into the first set, Pang would send a return flying down the forehand line that beat the Lobo service and turned the tide in the Mustangs’ favor.
“That was definitely the turning point,” Pang later said. “I just knew I had to stay aggressive on it not give him anything because he’s gonna take whatever I do. I just stayed aggressive and tried to keep him on his heels.”
Pang would win the third set 6-4 to give the Mustangs a 4-2 lead overall and clinch the win. Freshman Lucas Lesoeur still played out the final match of the day, which he lost in three sets 6-7, 6-4, 6-4.
“Today was a huge win,” said Pang. “We didn’t let their national rank get in our minds. We just focused on what we could control and I think we did that really well today. I think that’s what makes us a tough team.”
“They really did things the right way today and I told them before the match if we do things the right way we can be happy with ourselves, and we definitely are,” Carless said.
The Mustangs will look to build off of Friday’s win Sunday against San Francisco. The match will begin at 10 a.m inside the Mustang Tennis Complex.