If the USF men’s tennis team is disappointed with a fourth-place finish at the Conference USA Tournament, that won’t even compare with the despair the Bulls will be feeling if they fail to land a bid to the NCAA Tournament.
Following a 4-1 loss Friday to No. 26 TCU in the C-USA semifinals, the Bulls, ranked 40th in the country, stumbled again Saturday, losing 4-3 to Louisville to put their NCAA chances in jeopardy.
“I felt we had a team capable of going all the way, and I’m disappointed we didn’t,” USF coach Don Barr said. “It wasn’t as if we didn’t try. The conditions were against us, and indoors is not our surface.
“It would have been different outside.”
The Bulls and No. 53 Cardinals had a gripping finish to the third-place match, as the contest came down to the final singles match. The match at No. 5 singles proved to be an epic struggle between Louisville’s Jhonny Berrido and USF’s Federico Barton, with the third set alone lasting nearly an hour. Barton won the first set 6-4 only to watch Berrido reel off four straight games in the second and third sets. The Cardinals sophomore took the first four games of the second set en route to a 6-2 victory, then countered Barton after he had won three straight to take a 3-1 lead by winning the next four games.
Barr said he felt confident that the Bulls had an NCAA at-large bid after beating No. 69 Memphis in the quarterfinals Thursday. However, the Bulls coach backed off that statement following the loss to TCU and seemed even more unsure after the Cardinals’ victory made the 2002 C-USA Tournament champions settle for fourth.
“To make it in the field, it’s going to be very tight,” Barr said. “Basically, we’re a team that can compete and I think we should be in. Whether the committee feels that way could be a different story.
“If we’re on the bubble, I hope the committee takes into consideration our worst loss is to No. 53.”
No. 19 Tulane, which lost to the Bulls 4-2 March 2, defeated TCU 4-2 Saturday to win the tournament and earn the league’s automatic berth to the NCAA Tournament. USF now has to wait nine days before the NCAA issues at-large bids.
“We’ll take a few days off and come back and practice Thursday,” Barr said. “We’re preparing to be there, and if not, we know what we have to do to work to be there next year.
“We’ll assume we’re in until we’re proven differently.”
Junior Paco Antelo remained on his hot streak Saturday by beating Louisville’s Paulo Carvalho 6-1, 7-5 a day after he picked up the Bulls’ lone point against TCU by beating Toni Gordon 6-2, 6-1 at No. 2. Having dropped to No. 108 in the singles rankings after starting the year 53rd, Antelo has won five straight and nine of his last 10, with the lone loss to Baylor’s Matias Marin, No. 36 in the country.
A prime example of the Bulls’ struggles was senior Jorge Escallon at No. 6 singles. Entering Friday’s match with a 16-2 record, Escallon doubled his losses on the season by suffering defeats Friday and Saturday.
TCU’s Rafael Abreu wiped away Escallon on the indoor courts 6-3, 6-2 in straight sets. Saturday, Harry Walsh handed Escallon a 7-6 (7-3), 6-2 setback.
“Jorge is a scrambler,” Barr said. “He just runs everything down. He’d run through a wall. But indoors, the points are boom-boom. There are no long rallies.
“Outside, I think it would have been a different story. I hate to keep harping on that but the one thing Jorge does is break down opponents. He’s so tough, and he keeps them back on the baseline. Indoors, you have to be more reflexive.”
From the start, USF didn’t have it against TCU in the semifinals. The 26th-ranked Horned Frogs jumped the Bulls in doubles, picking up 8-3 and 8-2 victories at the top two spots to earn the point.
“In doubles, I have no answer why we came out so flat,” Barr said.
While the Bulls were flat, it was TCU that had the hunger.
“Everyone’s gunning for us since we’re the returning champs,” Barr said. “Plus, TCU had a score to pick with us because we beat them in the semifinals last year. They had a little extra motivation.”
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