Men and Women Tennis Tigers Advance To Finals

Auburn defeated East Tennessee State on Saturday in NCAA Tennis action in Auburn while the women's team won its NCAA match in Nashville, Tenn.

Auburn, Ala.--With strong play from senior Tiago Ruffoni and sophomore Rameez Junaid, Auburn took a 4-2 victory over East Tennessee State on Saturday, sending Auburn into the finals of the NCAA Men's Regional Tennis Tournament at the Luther Young Tennis Center.

Ruffoni's 7-5, 6-3 victory at three singles over Pablo Sahagun put the Tigers ahead 3-2 and Junaid's three-set 6-3, 3-6, 6-3 victory over Marcos Pavlovich at No. 1 singles wrapped up the team victory. Auburn improved to 18-7 for the season and will play Mississippi State at noon on Sunday. The winner of that match will advance to the NCAA Championships round of 16.

Auburn had jumped to a 2-0 lead with the Tigers taking the doubles point and senior Estevam Strecker taking a quick 6-1, 6-1 victory over Alejandro Salazar at No. 5 singles. ETSU then rallied with a pair of victories as Kego Iglesias defeated Auburn's Mark Kovacs 6-5, 6-4 at No. 4 singles. When Andre Boz fell 6-4, 6-3 to Moises Serrano at six singles, the match was tied.

"I always felt like we were going to figure out a way to win the match, but I knew it wasn't going to be easy for us after having 2 1/2 weeks off since our last match," Auburn coach Eric Shore said. "We weren't that sharp and we were playing a good team. We got the doubles point and I thought we played better as the doubles went on. I thought we might do the same in singles, but they hung in there and battled us down to the end. I never felt like I was going to lose when I have my top three guys on the court for the last three matches. I figured we could get at least two of the three."

At No. 2 singles, AU freshman Andy Colombo split sets with Roberto Fernandez and was up 5-4 in the third set when Junaid clinched the victory on court one with an overhead smash at the net.

Andy Colombo prepares to launch his big first serve in his singles match on Saturday.

"With our schedule, and the level of competition we have played all year, I figured that would help us and it did. It wasn't pretty, but we figured out a way to get it done."

The most impressive effort probably came from Ruffoni, who teamed with Junaid to win the No. 1 doubles match 8-5. Colombo and Kovacs*/ Colombo and Kovacs won the No. 2 doubles by the same score while Boz and Strecker fell 8-5 at three doubles. Ruffoni was able to win in both singles and doubles despite playing with an arm problem that forced him to serve underhanded.

"Tiago did a great job for us," said Shore. "He was serving underhand to save his arm for the Sunday match. Being able to win doing that shows how good he is."

Ruffoni says he had never used the underhand serve in a match before Saturday. "I tried to serve normally in the first game of doubles, but it was hurting too bad," he says. "It didn't go too badly. I actually won some points on the serve."

Strecker says he surprised himself with how quickly he won at five singles. "Actually, I didn't play well in practice this week," he said. "I guess I missed all of the shots I was going to miss in practice. I was talking to Mark (Kovacs) yesterday and he said, ‘Don't worry. Once the match starts, everything will come back to you.' And it did."

Mississippi State (11-11) defeated South Alabama (15-9) by a 4-1 score in the other match. Auburn defeated the Bulldogs 5-2 in the regular season.

"We beat them at their place, but they didn't have one of their guys," Strecker said. "He is going to be back so it is going to be a war."

Shore says the Tigers will have to play well to win on Sunday. "We have been in the regional final a lot lately," Shore says. "We want to win this one to get over the hump. We will be emotionally ready."

In Nashville, Tenn., the Auburn women's tennis team edged Indiana 4-3 to advance to the finals of its regional vs. host Vanderbilt, which defeated Murray State on Saturday.

Petra Burcik, Carolina Maurer, Liz Sauerborn and Sarah Suitor won their singles matches to give the Tigers a victory. Indiana, ranked 42nd nationally, took the doubles point for a 1-0 lead. However, AU bounced back for its first ever NCAA Women's Tennis Tournament victory.

"This win was the epitome of a total team effort," says AU coach Troy Porco. "We knew coming in that this was going to be a tough match. We were pushed to the limit by a very good Indiana team."

Auburn, which is ranked 29th, lost in the regular season to Vanderbilt and also fell to the Lady Commodores in the SEC Tournament.

The men's and women's track teams are competing at the SEC Championships this weekend in Starkville, Miss., while the women's softballt team was eliminated in three games at the SEC Tournament in Chattanooga.

Elva Goulbourne set an SEC meet and school record in winning the long jump with a leap of 22 feet, 4 1/2 inches. Lacena Golding held to old Auburn mark of 21 feet, 10 inches set in 1997.

Goulbourne's effort has helped the Tigers move into third place with 41 points. Arkansas is first with 44 and Florida is next with 43. South Carolina is fourth with 32.

The men's team is in sixth place with 17 points well off the pace set by Tennessee and Arkansas, who are tied for first with 50 points. Georgia is third with 38.

"Our women are having a super meet," says Coach Ralph Spry. "They're putting themselves in position to be a real factor in the team competition. Our men are scrapping and our kids have a lot of fight in them."

Kaylah Burks took second in the high jump at 5-8 3/4 and Stacy Martin finished fourth in the discus with a throw of 172 feet.

For the men, Osbourne Moxey's third place in the long jump with an effort of 25 feet, 11 inches is the best finish so far.

In Chattanooga, Auburn was eliminated by Alabama 5-4 on Saturday at the SEC Women's Softball Tournament. Auburn dropped into the loser's bracket of the double-elimination event by falling to Georgia and then stayed alive with a victory over Florida.

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