With their hopes of a winning a 10th straight regional hanging by a thread, Vanderbilt turned its hopes to a tough senior and a dependable sophomore.
It added up to an air-tight 4-3 victory over Kentucky which enabled host Vanderbilt to advance to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA women’s team tennis tournament. It vaulted the No. 11 ranked Commodores (20-5) to a match Friday against SEC foe Florida in nationals at Tulsa, Okla.
But had it not been for senior Caroline Ferrell, who won a tough match at No. 6 singles, then, with all eyes on her match, a tense three-set, clinching victory by sophomore Catherine Newman, the Commodores would have wound up sitting at home.
Vanderbilt lost the doubles point and never led until Newman’s 0-6, 7-6, 6-2 win over lefty Carolina Escamilla at No. 2 singles finally ended the four-hour battle. At 2-2, she won the final four games, including two service breaks.
Asked about playing in a situation in which all eyes were on her match, Newman said, ”sometimes I have a tendency to drift off mentally during matches, but I couldn’t afford to do that this time,’’ she said. “I tried to stay calm. (Assistant Coach) Aleke (Tsoubanos) told me to step up in the court, stay aggressive.’’
“That’s at least three times this season Catherine has won a match at 3-3 to give us the win,’’ said coach Geoff Macdonald, noting she had clinching wins in victories over Notre Dame and Georgia Tech previously. “And Caroline has won some big matches for us this year.’’
All three seniors – Ferrell, Taka Bertrand and Amanda Taylor – won their matches in their final home court appearances. Ferrell stormed back from 2-5 down the second set to Whitney Spencer 6-3, 7-5 to square the match at 3-3.
“It was a really tight match, Whitney’s a good player, but I just tried to stay focused and keep fighting to the finish,’’ Ferrell said.
Macdonald got his 300th coaching win in Vanderbilt’s 4-0 first-round win over Indiana State Saturday.
Looking toward a third matchup with Florida this season — the Commodores have 5-2 and 4-2 losses to the Gators — Macdonald said, “at this point, we’re just playing with house money after getting a win like this. My hat’s off to Kentucky, they really fought hard.’’
VU MEN FALL: The Vanderbilt men lost to No. 5 Ole Miss 4-1 in the NCAA Regional at Oxford, Miss. Saturday, winning the doubles point. The Commodores beat Indiana 4-3 in a five-hour battle in their opener Friday.