March 18, 2006
MONTGOMERY, Ala. – For the second day in a row, junior Stephen Bass (Bronxville, N.Y./Iona Preparatory School) gutted out a three-set victory in the decisive match to key the second-seeded and 20th-ranked University of Notre Dame men’s tennis team (13-4) to a victory, on Saturday afternoon by a 4-3 score over #32 Boise State in the semifinals of the Blue-Gray National Tennis Classic at the Lagoon Park Tennis Center. The Irish are now riding an 11-match winning streak (their longest since 1990) and have advanced to the title match of the prestigious tournament for the sixth time. Notre Dame will face third-seeded and 26th-ranked Virginia Commonwealth (15-4) on Sunday at Noon (CST), with the winner to become just the second school ever to claim a third Blue-Gray championship.
The match came down to the No. 1 contest, a battle between two players ranked among the top 25 in the nation and a rematch of a round-of-16 contest in the season’s second grand slam, the ITA National Intercollegiate Indoor Championships (won by Bass in three sets). The third set featured several ebbs and flows of momentum, as 23rd-ranked Shields got an early break, but #13 Bass came back and had an opportunity to serve out the match at 5-3. The Irish junior had one team match point in that game, but Shields would not give in, fighting his way to a service break. The Broncos’ sophomore then held serve and broke again to go up 6-5 and give himself an opportunity to serve it out. Bass broke back and forced a tiebreaker, in which he built a 4-2 lead and took advantage of a second serve, hitting a big return, rushing the net, and putting away a volley for a three-point advantage. Shields saved two more team match points before Bass finally converted, finishing off a 6-3, 2-6, 7-6 (7-4) triumph.
“Stephen came through for us again,” said Irish head coach Bob Bayliss. “This match was just a battle the entire way, with both players fighting back several times. It was great to see Stephen fight through and give us the victory for the second day in a row. This was a good win for us.”
Bass continued to be a prolific player in the Blue-Gray National Tennis Classic, running his career singles record in the event to 7-1. He leads the Irish in singles victories this season with a 24-6 record and is 11-5 in dual action. It was Bass’ first career victory in four opportunities as the final match remaining with the score tied 3-3. He does hold a 13-6 mark in three-set affairs when the team outcome is not yet determined (4-4 this season).
Boise State won the doubles point, and the bottom five singles matches were all decided in two sets. The Irish prevailed at Nos. 3-5, while the Broncos won at Nos. 2 and 6 to put the match in the hands of the match’s two highest-ranked players.
BSU got 8-6 wins at the top two spots in doubles to take a 1-0 lead. The point came down to the top spot, where Shields and senior Thomas Schoeck from Germany, ranked 17th in the nation, rallied from a 4-1 deficit to beat junior Ryan Keckley (South Bend, Ind./St. Joseph’s H.S.) and sophomore Sheeva Parbhu (Omaha, Neb./Millard North H.S.).
Notre Dame struck first in partnered play, as Bass and fellow junior Barry King (Dublin, Ireland/Gonzaga College) – teaming together for the first time this season – won 8-5 against Pitriok Dillaj of Germany and Eric Roberson at No. 3. It was Bass’ first appearance in the doubles lineup since Feb. 5. A team of freshmen, Clancy Shields – Luke’s brother – and Steve Robertson, came back with an 8-6 win against senior Eric Langenkamp (Scarsdale, N.Y./Scarsdale H.S.) and sophomore Andrew Roth (Houston, Texas/Tenney School) at No. 2 to put the point in the hands of the No. 1 players.
First off the court in singles was 89th-ranked Brett Helgeson (Overland Park, Kan./Blue Valley West H.S.), who beat Clancy Shields 6-4, 6-1 in a battle of two of the top freshmen in the country. Helgeson stands 18-7 on the season, including 11-6 in dual action.
Schoeck put Boise State ahead again with a 6-4, 6-4 upset of 33rd-ranked Parbhu at No. 2. Keckley then bounced back from only his second defeat of the spring – which came on Friday – to beat Roberson 7-6, 6-2 at No. 4 to avenge a three-set loss in last year’s 4-3 Boise State victory. The St. Joseph’s High School graduate and former Indiana state singles champion is now 17-3 on the season, including 15-1 in dual action.
King, ranked 106th, put Notre Dame ahead 3-2 by beating Dillaj 6-3, 7-5 at No. 5. The Irishman has won five in a row and stands 11-5 on the season. King improved to 7-1 in singles in the Blue-Gray National Tennis Classic during his career.
Brent Werbeck then beat Roth 7-6, 6-1 at No. 6 to tie the score and put the match in the hands of the No. 1 players.
This winning streak – which dates back to a loss at #3 Illinois on Feb. 7 that dropped the Irish to 2-4 on the season – is the longest since Notre Dame won 14 straight from Jan. 20-March 3, 1990, in Bayliss’ third season leading the Irish. This is the second-longest winning streak of the Bayliss era.
Notre Dame improved to 6-1 all-time in the semifinals of the Blue-Gray Classic, as well as 34-19 overall in the event. The Irish have reached the title match for the sixth time, having won the championship in 1993 and 2001 and finished second in 1997, ’98, and 2002.
VCU had a similar semifinal test, eventually winning 4-3 over #39 Tulsa. The Rams are 14-4 on the season, with all of their defeats coming against teams ranked in the national 15. Notre Dame and VCU have played three common opponents: Virginia, North Carolina, and Ohio State. Both lost 4-3 to the Cavaliers and also fell to the Tar Heels (ND 4-3, VCU 4-2), but the Irish earned a 5-2 win over the Buckeyes, while the Rams lost 4-2.
Notre Dame and VCU will meet for just the third time, with both prior contests also occurring in the Blue-Gray Classic. The Irish won 4-3 in the quarterfinals of the 1997 event, while the Rams prevailed 4-0 in the 2004 quarters en route to the second of their back-to-back titles.
#20 Notre Dame 4, #32 Boise State 3SinglesNo. 1: #13 Stephen Bass (ND) def. #23 Luke Shields (BSU) 6-3, 2-6, 7-6 (7-4)No. 2: Thomas Schoeck (BSU) def. #33 Sheeva Parbhu (ND) 6-4, 6-4No. 3: #89 Brett Helgeson (ND) def. Clancy Shields (BSU) 6-4, 6-1No. 4: Ryan Keckley (ND) def. Eric Roberson (BSU) 7-6, 6-2No. 5: #106 Barry King (ND) def. Pitriok Dillaj (BSU) 6-3, 7-5No. 6: Brent Werbeck (BSU) def. Andrew Roth (ND) 7-6, 6-1Order of Finish: 3, 2, 4, 5, 6, 1*DoublesNo. 1: #17 Schoeck/L. Shields (BSU) def. Keckley/Parbhu (ND) 8-6No. 2: Steve Robertson/C. Shields (BSU) def. Eric Langenkamp/Roth (ND) 8-6No. 3: Bass/King (ND) def. Dillaj/Roberson (BSU) 8-5Order of Finish: 3, 2, 1** - indicates clinching victory