Navy coach Chris Garner said the key to pulling off an upset in the first round of the NCAA tournament was winning the doubles point.
Doing so would make the favorite uncomfortable while giving the underdog confidence.
Navy came extremely close to accomplishing that goal during Saturday morning’s match against 19th-ranked Oklahoma State. The Midshipmen were victorious at No. 2 doubles by tiebreaker and narrowly lost at No. 1, also by tiebreaker.
Oklahoma State had to dig deep to capture the lone doubles point and that proved deflating for Navy. The Cowboys then won three singles matches to dispatch the Midshipmen 4-0 in the opener of the North Carolina Regional, held at the Cone-Kenfield Tennis Center on the University of North Carolina campus in Chapel Hill.
It did not take long for Oklahoma State to take the lead in doubles as Mathieu Scaglia and Maxim Tybar dispatched Sasha Panyan and Gavin Segraves, 6-3, at No. 3. It appeared the Cowboys would grab the point with no problem after the No. 2 tandem of Luke Hammond and Henrik Korsgaard jumped out to a 5-3 lead.
However, the Navy duo of Jack Dabek and Finn Garner (Broadneck) battled back to force a tiebreaker, which it won by a score of 9-7 to even the proceedings.
That marked just the second doubles victory ever recorded by Navy in the NCAA tournament with the first coming in that 1999 appearance that was the program’s first since the field was expanded to 64 teams.
Doubles came down to the No. 1 matchup pitting Navy’s Derrick Thompson (Gilman) and Andrew Ton against Oklahoma State’s Emile Hudd and Matej Vocel.
Neither team held any kind of significant lead throughout the hour-plus contest, which led to another tiebreaker. Hudd and Vocel, who are ranked No. 27 nationally, edged Thompson and Ton by a 10-8 score.
”We started a bit slow in doubles, but the team found its bearings and definitely made a push to win the doubles point,” said coach Garner. “Sasha led the way as each court started to make a rally. Once they loosened up, they were able to put pressure on their opponents, which ultimately gave them a chance to take the point. We just rushed a little bit on the set points.”
Oklahoma State would win the first set in each of the six singles matches, but four of those sets were close ones.
Garner lost his first set at No. 4 singles by the score of 6-4, while both Thompson at No. 2 and Jake Fishkin (Pikesville) at No. 3 lost their respective matches by the score of 6-3. Meanwhile, Jack McBride dropped a first-set tiebreaker at No. 6 by the score of 8-6.
Oklahoma State extended its lead to 2-0 when Vocel, who is ranked 37th nationally and is entered into the singles draw of the NCAA tournament, defeated Ton, 6-1, 6-2, at No. 1. The Cowboys moved ahead 3-0 when Matisse Bobichon defeated Segraves, 6-2, 7-6 (7-1) in the fifth flight.
The match ended abruptly after Etienne Donnet beat Garner in straight sets (6-4, 6-1) at No. 4. With the outcome decided, three other singles matches went unfinished. Thompson was the only Navy player winning those matches that were not completed. He split the first two sets with Korsgaard and they were tied 1-1 in the third set.
Thompson joins Mitch Koch (1999) and Ramsey Lemaich (2007) as the only Navy players to win a singles set in the current NCAA tournament format. Koch earned a 6-3, 6-3 decision at No. 1 singles against Mississippi, while Lemaich captured the first set of his No. 6 singles match against Texas.
Navy is the only Patriot League program to so much as win a point in the NCAA tournament. That happened way back in 1999 when Mitchell Koch won at No. 1 singles during an eventual 4-1 loss to Mississippi.
Every other Patriot League representative has been swept in opening round, a result the Midshipmen have now absorbed in their other nine NCAA Tournament appearances.
OKLAHOMA STATE 4, NAVY 0
1. Hudd/Vocel (OSU) def. Thompson/Ton, 7-6 (10-8)
2. Garner/Dabek (N) def. Korsgaard/Hammond (OSU) 7-6 (9-7)
3. Tybar/Scaglia (OSU) def. Segraves/Panyan, 6-3
1. Matej Vocel (OSU) def. Andrew Ton, 6-1, 6-2
2. Derrick Thompson (N) vs. Henrik Korsgaard (OSU), 3-6, 6-3, 1-1, unfinished
3. Jake Fishkin, Jake (N) vs. Mathieu Scaglia (OSU), 3-6, 5-6, unfinished
4. Etienne Donnet (OSU) def. Finn Garner, 6-4, 6-1
5. Matisse Bobichon (OSU) def. Gavin Segraves, 6-2, 7-6 (7-1)
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6. McBride, Jack (N) vs. Luke Hammond (OSU), 6-7 (6-8), 1-3, unfinished