MTen: Gauchos top No. 1 UC Irvine to capture Big West title

INDIAN WELLS – The No. 3 seeded Gauchos earned an exciting 4-3 victory over the No. 1 seed UC Irvine, to win their second Big West Championship title in three years and ninth overall in UCSB men’s tennis history.

With the match tied at 3-all, Australian sensation Nathan Eshmade clinched the title for the Gauchos after a gutsy three-set victory at the No. 2 court. Eshmade, who has steadily moved up the lineup for UCSB in his debut season, was edged in a first set tiebreak 7-6(5) by the ‘Eaters’ Tyler Pham but proved resilient by coming back to take the final two sets 6-4, 6-3 and capture the Big West title for UCSB.

The Gauchos had a strong start in doubles, winning two of the three matches to take the early 1-0 lead. Junior Nathan Eshmade and sophomore Erik Johnsson earned the Gauchos’ first victory of the day after beating Justin Agbayani and Jonathan Poon 6-2 at No. 1 doubles but the Anteaters leveled the doubles competition with a 6-4 victory at the No. 3 court.

Seniors Tobias Galskov and Ziad Sultan sealed the doubles point for the Gauchos with a 6-4 triumph at the No. 2 slot to put the Gauchos on top 1-0.

After the Gauchos took the doubles point, UC Irvine turned the tables by winning the first set at five of the six singles matches.

However, it was the Gauchos who took the first point in singles after Erik Johnsson shook off a shutout in the first set to defeat Jonathan Hammel 6-2, 6-3 in the second and third sets, respectively.

Impressive freshman Cody Rakela stretched the Gaucho lead to 3-0 and earned his 21st singles victory of the season by downing Shuhei Shibahara 7-6(4), 6-4.

With the Gauchos on the brink of victory, the Anteaters fought back to win the next three singles matches to tie the match at three apiece. Sebastian Heim handed Tobias Galskov a 6-4, 6-2 loss at No. 1 singles for Irvine’s first point of the match and Morgan Mays was felled by Nico Mertens despite forcing a third set at the No. 3 slot to close the Gaucho lead to 3-2.

UCI evened up the match after Rafael Davidian dropped sophomore Teague Hamilton in a back and forth battle at the No. 6 court. Davidian opened the match with a 6-4 first set victory but Hamilton used a 6-3 win in the second set to force a decisive third set. Davidian raced out to a 5-2 lead in the final set but Hamilton fought off match points to climb back to a 6-6 tie before falling in the tiebreak.

Davidian’s win temporarily tied the match before Eshmade secured the fourth and final point for UC Santa Barbara.

With the win, the Gauchos improve to 15-9 overall and earn an automatic bid to the NCAA Championships. The first and second rounds will begin May 8-10.