MIDDLETOWN, Conn. — No. 7 Amherst College rallied from a doubles deficit to narrowly edge out the 13th-ranked Wesleyan University men's tennis team on Saturday afternoon, winning 5-4 in a dramatic finish that came down to the final match deep in a third set. With the overall score at 4-4, all eyes were on senior Tiago Eusebio at No. 3, who saved two match points at 3-5 in the third set with some amazing grit, but eventually fell to Zach Bessette, who was swarmed by his teammates in celebration after clinching the match for the visiting Mammoths.
Nearly four hours before things were decided, Wesleyan took a 2-1 lead after doubles, winning at No. 1 and No. 3. At No. 3, seniors Steven Chen and Cam Daniels played perhaps their best match of the spring, executing the fundamentals very well and earning the first point of the match with an 8-4 triumph. Amherst responded at No. 2 with an 8-5 win over senior Win Smith and freshman Adrian Roji, but Wesleyan retook the lead, as Eusebio and sophomore Princeton Carter converted a late break of serve and finished things off with an 8-6 victory.
With the match only at 2-1, there was still much to be decided in singles. All six courts were close, with momentum swings seeming to happen every few minutes. Amherst took three first sets within minutes at No. 4, No. 5, and No. 6, and the edge seemed to be with the Mammoths. But only moments later, Wesleyan responded with first sets at No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3. The back-and-forth energy kept going through the second sets, and slowly matches began to end as each team tried to find five points.
Amherst took the first singles match at No. 6, where Carter fell 7-5, 6-3. Wesleyan responded at No. 2, however, where freshman Andrew Finkelman hung tough, playing aggressive tennis in addition to his excellent defense to top Kevin Ma, 6-4, 6-2. At No. 4, Daniels found himself in a hole down 6-3, 3-0. The senior dug in though and chipped away at the lead, putting himself in position to win the second set. Despite having the opportunity to serve for the set twice, Amherst's Jayson Fung prevailed 6-3, 7-6 to earn Amherst its third point. At No. 5, Roji had a roller coaster match with Jesse Levitin, and in the end the Mammoth survived, outlasting the Wesleyan freshman 6-2, 0-6, 6-3.
With Amherst up 4-3, Wesleyan needed the last two remaining matches for the win. While Eusebio battled at No. 3, Chen and Amherst freshman Sean Wei went shot for shot at No. 1, with both ripping winners from the baseline, each one hit harder than the last. After splitting the first two tight sets and getting to 2-2 in the second, Chen's senior experience took over, as the multiple-time All-American pulled ahead to win 7-5, 5-7, 6-2 and put the overall score at 4-4.
In the end it was Amherst's Bessette who played the role of hero, but it was certainly not without an incredible fight from Eusebio and the rest of the Cardinals. With the loss, the Cardinals falls back to 6-6 this spring, with the six losses coming to teams ranked No. 1, 4, 5, 7, 9 and 10.
- Another opportunity to get back on track is on the docket for Wesleyan as it hosts Middlebury College tomorrow at 2:00 p.m. The Panthers come into the match on the heels of beating No. 1 Emory 7-2 earlier today.
-- Recap by Ben Shapiro --