Coach Don Barr brought home his fourth Conference USA championship in the league’s seven years of existence Sunday night following the Bulls 4-2 victory vs. the No. 2 seed Tulane at Bass-Rudd Stadium in Louisville.
The third-seeded Bulls avenged last season’s loss to the Green Wave in the championship match when Tulane, the No. 2 seed, upended the top-seeded Bulls. Tulane also defeated USF 4-2 on February 22 in a C-USA shootout at TCU.
Sophomore Paco Antelo clinched the match for the Bulls with his three-set 6-3, 3-6, 6-2 upset of Victor Romero at No. 2 singles. Romero (ranked No. 71 in singles) had been ranked as high as No. 29 in singles during the season.
The day did not start out well for the Bulls in doubles play. All three doubles matchups went the distance (9-8) and Tulane won two, earning a 1-0 advantage.
But the Bulls turned the tables in singles competition, winning three of the first four matches to take a 3-2 lead.
Senior Dan McCain defeated Tulane’s Mattias Westerberg 6-2, 6-4 at No. 3 singles. At No. 5 singles Nadim Naser took care of Tulane’s Goran Vasiljevic 6-3, 6-2 and at No. 6 singles Jorge Escallon snuck out a hard fought 7-6 (7-5), 7-6 (7-5) victory vs. Tulane’s Hannu Piiroinen.
All three – McCain, Naser and Escallon – had lost their singles matches vs. the Green Wave earlier in the year but came up big when it mattered most.
The lone Bull to suffer defeat in singles action was Martin Wetzel. Tulane’s Michael Kogan (ranked No. 16 in singles) breezed past Wetzel (ranked No. 82) 6-1, 6-1.
The match between USF’s Uli Kiendl and Tulane’s Jorge Lievano at No. 4 singles (with Lievano leading 3-6, 6-3, 5-2) did not finish as Antelo had already clinched the championship for the Bulls.
In order to get to the championship match on Sunday, the Bulls upset top-seeded TCU 4-1 on Saturday. The victory vs. the Horned Frogs assured the No. 1 seed would be denied the championship again, an occurrence that has happened every year since the start of the Conference USA Championships.
The Bulls opened the tournament with a 4-0 sweep vs. No. 6 UAB on Friday after earning a first-round bye.
It was the Bulls’ fourth Conference USA Championship, with the first coming in C-USA’s inaugural season in 1996. The Bulls also won the championship in 1998 and 1999.
The Bulls (ranked No. 32 in the nation) now await their NCAA Tournament seed after earning the automatic bid. The NCAA Tournament field will begin play May 11-12 at sites to be determined by the selection committee.
Chris Lemke covers men’s tennis and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org