Photo by: Derrick Tuskan
Zach Ermert aided in a doubles win and also defeated a regionally-rated opponent in singles Friday in Azusa.

Tritons Edged in Heartbreaker at No. 15 Azusa Pacific, 4-3

UC San Diego

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AZUSA, Calif. - The University of California San Diego men's tennis team hung in there until the very end, even leading as late as 3-2, before succumbing agonizingly to 15th-ranked rival Azusa Pacific University, 4-3, at the Munson and Bavougian Tennis Complex on Friday afternoon.

With the result in a match critical to its hopes of qualifying for a fourth consecutive NCAA Division II Championship, UC San Diego concluded the regular season at an even 10-10. That includes a 4-3 mark in true road matches and 5-4 away from home. Azusa Pacific notched its 20th win of 2019, moving to an impressive 20-2. The Cougars swept the season series for a second year in a row, as then-13th-ranked APU had won 4-2 in La Jolla back on Feb. 8. They have now taken six consecutive meetings, with three in 2018.

UC San Diego was No. 4 in the Oracle/Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA) West Region poll back in January, with APU at No. 2.

On the final singles court still going in a 3-3 deadlock, Richard Han was tied early in his decider, 1-1, at No. 6, but with cramping becoming a problem, fell behind 5-1. In a valiant effort by the fourth-year senior, he won his serve, broke, won on serve again, broke back again, and held serve once more to suddenly grab a 6-5 lead. The match went to a tiebreak at 6-6, however, where Han was ultimately outlasted, 7-2. Full scores against APU's Marnix Pluim were 6-4, 5-7, 7-6 (7-2).

The day began promisingly as UC San Diego procured the doubles point through victories on the No. 1 and No. 3 courts. The home side initially won at No. 2 with Leyton Bohren and Ryan Nuno taking care of junior Marius Ruh and sophomore Neil Tengbumroong, 6-4. Juniors Marc Isaia and Sreeganesh Manoharan (San Diego/Torrey Pines HS) leveled matters at No. 1, 6-4, over Jesse Haas and Jakob Schnaitter. Han and redshirt freshman Zach Ermert (Carlsbad/La Costa Canyon HS) then edged past Ronald Kang and Ethan Smith via tiebreak, 7-6 (7-4).

APU, now 14-1 at home, flipped that disadvantage around hurriedly in singles, however, taking speedy wins at No. 1 and No. 2 for a 2-1 edge. That was Nuno over Isaia at No. 2, 6-0, 6-4, and then 15th-ranked Schnaitter over true freshman Sahm Irvine at No. 1, 6-1, 6-0. The Cougars were coming off a split on their recent Florida trip, with a 4-0 win at No. 5 Saint Leo, and 4-1 decision at No. 7 Flagler.

Manoharan then won at No. 5 over Haas, 6-1, 6-2, to even matters once more at 2-2, improving to 11-4 for his first full season as a member of the Triton singles lineup. It was a third straight win for the local product.

Ermert gave the visitors the lead back with a triumph at No. 4 over regionally-ranked (No. 18) Bohren, 6-4, 6-4. That result left the Nos. 3 and 6 singles courts both in the third set. Tengbumroong was beaten at No. 3 by Kang, 5-7, 6-4, 6-1, to knot the score back up at 3-3, and leave all eyes on the Han-Pluim matchup.

Han (La Habra), fellow fourth-year UC San Diego student-athlete Riku Hashiyada (Tokyo, Japan), and third-year walk-on David Higgins (Palm Desert), were competing for the last time as Tritons.

"We gave ourselves an opportunity to take the match, and fell a little short," remarked seventh-year UC San Diego head coach Timmer Willing. "Both teams competed hard and in the end, it came down to a tiebreaker to settle our season. Richard, down 5-1 in the third and match-deciding set, was cramping physically. He battled mentally to gain the lead, 6-5, but his opponent played a smart and physically grinding tiebreaker where he was cramping as well.

"It was a great effort by both teams and we played to win and left everything out there. We were beaten today, but were not defeated. We walked out with heads up and shoulders back. I'm very proud of these guys for laying it all out there.

"We had to come back all season, and just fell short today, just points away from making the NCAA (Championship)."

UC San Diego took six of its last eight, with a pair of three-match win streaks, and four of those victories against Division II competition, but Friday's defeat in Azusa leaves the Tritons at 7-8 against divisional foes, which looks to mean that they are out of contention for that fourth straight trip to the NCAA Championship. The date for that announcement was not readily available at press time.

#15 Azusa Pacific 4, UC San Diego 3
April 12, 2019 at Azusa, CA (Munson and Bavougian Tennis Courts)

Doubles competition
1. Marc Isaia/Sreeganesh Manoharan (UCSD) def. Jesse Haas/Jakob Schnaitter (APU) 6-4
2. Leyton Bohren/Ryan Nuno (APU) def. Marius Ruh/Neil Tengbumroong (UCSD) 6-4
3. Zach Ermert/Richard Han (UCSD) def. Ronald Kang/Ethan Smith (APU) 7-6 (7-4)

Singles competition
1. #15 Jakob Schnaitter (APU) def. Sahm Irvine (UCSD) 6-1, 6-0
2. Ryan Nuno (APU) def. Marc Isaia (UCSD) 6-0, 6-4
3. Ronald Kang (APU) def. Neil Tengbumroong (UCSD) 5-7, 6-4, 6-1
4. Zach Ermert (UCSD) def. Leyton Bohren (APU) 6-4, 6-4
5. Sreeganesh Manoharan (UCSD) def. Jesse Haas (APU) 6-1, 6-2
=6. Marnix Pluim (APU) def. Richard Han (UCSD) 6-4, 5-7, 7-6 (7-2)

Match Notes
UC San Diego 10-10; Regional ranking #4
Azusa Pacific 20-2; National ranking #15; Regional ranking #2
Order of finish: Doubles (2,1,3); Singles (2,1,5,4,3,6)
T-2:40 A-50

About UC San Diego Athletics
With 30 national team championships, nearly 150 individual titles and the top student-athlete graduation rate among Division II institutions in the United States, the UC San Diego intercollegiate athletics program annually ranks as one of the most successful in the country. The Tritons sponsor 23 intercollegiate sport programs that compete on the NCAA Division I and II levels and, in summer 2020, will transition into full Division I status as a member of the Big West Conference. UC San Diego student-athletes exemplify the academic ideals of one of the world's preeminent institutions, graduating at an average rate of 91 percent. A total of 80 Tritons have earned Academic All-America honors, while 36 have earned prestigious NCAA Postgraduate Scholarships. In competition, more than 1,300 UC San Diego student-athletes have earned All-America honors.

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