BETHLEHEM, Pa. – In an epic five-hour, 30 minute match that came down to a third set tiebreaker in the sixth and final singles match, sophomore Andrew Krentz outlasted Nick Birger 7-4 in the tiebreaker to give Lehigh a thrilling 4-3 win over Navy Saturday inside the Lewis Tennis Center. After winning the doubles point Lehigh won three three-set singles matches to knock off the four-time defending league champions.
“He was serving really well,” Krentz said of his opponent afterwards. “He played great. We went back and forth the whole match. It was very competitive. We both wanted to go to the championship match. It went down to the wire and I just came out on top in the tiebreak.”
The win improves Lehigh’s record to 15-6 on the season as the Mountain Hawks advance to the Patriot League Championship match for the first time under the current tournament format. Lehigh will face No. 1 seed Army in Sunday’s finals after the Black Knights rallied to defeat Bucknell 4-2.
Lehigh opened up action in the semifinals by winning two of three matches to capture the doubles point. Freshman Mark Goldberg and junior Ryan Krueger were the first to finish, winning 8-4 over Marcus Rebersak and Heyward Drayton at No. 3 doubles. The Mids top team of Owen Bullard and Birger knocked off Lehigh’s No. 1 team of seniors Troy List and Collin Laffey. With the doubles point on the line, sophomores Matt Savran and Krentz downed Nick Gutsche and Mike Eisenberg 8-5 to give the Mountain Hawks a 1-0 lead.
Navy started strong in singles play, capturing the first set in the first four matches on the courts. The Mids took a 2-1 lead in the match when Rebersak downed Laffey in straight sets and Bullard bested List 7-6, 6-3 to win at No. 1 singles.
The matches at No. 3 and No. 4 singles both went to third sets and on both occasions Lehigh players relied on big comebacks. Goldberg dropped his first set to Gutsche 4-6 but rallied to take the next two, 6-3 and 6-2 to even the match at two.
Savran found himself down one set to Drayton at No. 3 singles, before rallying to win the second 6-2. In the third set, Savran went down 4-1 and then 5-2 and had to fight off several match points to stay alive. Savran battled back to even the set and force a tiebreaker, which he won 7-4 to put Lehigh on the brink of victory.
“I really liked how Savran was out of gas, out of emotions, and running on empty and he just stepped right back up to the plate,” said Lehigh head coach Dave Shook. “He felt like his manhood was being questioned and he answered in a huge way. To go from totally depleted to come back and win four games and just take the match. That was a huge win for us. It turned the match around. Without that we don’t win today.”
The Midshipmen would not go quietly as Matt Richmond erased a 5-2 first set deficit and went on to defeat Krueger 7-5, 6-4 at No. 5 singles, setting the stage for the No. 6 singles match to decide who would move on to the final.
Krentz dropped the first set to Birger 2-6 but battled back to take the second set 6-4. The Lehigh sophomore went up a break early in the deciding set before Birger evened things with a break of his own. Krentz was serving to win the match but Birger broke the serve to force the tiebreaker, where Krentz built a 5-1 lead before closing things out 7-4 and sending the Mountain Hawks’ team and fans into a frenzy.
“I just hard to focus one point at a time,” Krentz said. “When you’re out there with the adrenaline pumping it’s about tunnel vision. We’re very excited to be in the championship match tomorrow.”
Lehigh will now try to win its first Patriot League team title and automatic NCAA berth Sunday when the Mountain Hawks face Army. The Black Knights downed Lehigh 6-1 at West Point on March 27. Due to inclement weather, Sunday’s title match will be played inside the Lewis Tennis Center and the start time has been moved to 1 p.m.
Lehigh 4, Navy 3
1. Bullard/Birger (N) def. List/Laffey (L) 8-6
2. Savran/Krentz (L) def. Gutsche/Eisenberg (N) 8-5
3. Goldberg/Krueger (L) def. Rebersak/Drayton (N) 8-4
Order of Finish: 3, 1, 2
1. Owen Bullard (N) def. Troy List (L) 7-6 (2), 6-3
2. Marcus Rebersak (N) def. Collin Laffey (L) 6-2, 6-3
3. Matt Savran (L) def. Heyward Drayton (N) 4-6, 6-2, 7-6 (4)
4. Mark Goldberg (L) def. Nick Gutsche (N) 4-6, 6-3, 6-2
5. Matt Richmond (N) def. Ryan Krueger (L) 7-5, 6-4
6. Andrew Krentz (L) def. Nick Birger (N) 2-6, 6-4, 7-6 (4)
Order of Finish: 2, 1, 4, 3, 5, 6