In a match that ended at nearly midnight Saturday on the campus of Texas A&M, the team's most unlikely hero came through with the biggest victory in his college career. Junior Andre Boz rallied from a 4-1 deficit in the third set by winning five straight games for a 6-4 victory to clinch a 4-3 victory for the Auburn Tigers over the Washington Huskies. Boz, a six-foot left-hander, spent most of the season watching from the sidelines, but got the call when freshman Mark Van Elden slumped down the stretch and was benched for NCAA Tournament play.
Just minutes before Boz's big third-set rally, Auburn trailed 3-0, then 3-1 and then 3-2 before tying the match at 3-3 apiece with a clutch victory at No. 1 singles by Junaid. "Heart attack city for the Tigers," said Junaid, who didn't conceal his joy. "The doctor (Boz) saved us when we were in some real trouble. We were having a heart attack. What a great third set clutch performance for him. That was a great win for him and a great win for the Auburn Tigers."
Sophomore Rameez Junaid is Auburn's top-ranked player.
Moments earlier, Junaid had a key win himself. The sophomore from Australia tied the match at 3-3 when he rallied from behind to knock off the nation's 42nd-ranked singles player, Matt Hanlin, for a 4-6, 6-4, 6-4 victory. "Washington played well, but we never thought we were going to lose this match, even when it didn't look good for us," Junaid told Inside the Auburn Tigers "After we lost the doubles point, we talked about going out in singles and fighting for every shot and if we did that we would win because we were a better team. I think we came out a little tight at first because we wanted so much to win, but we settled down and played better."
The victory over the Huskies in the Sweet 16 round moves Auburn into the quarter-finals for a 4 p.m. CDT match vs. UCLA.
Coach Eric Shore agrees with Junaid's assessment about his team growing stronger as the match started. He said a third set tiebreaker victory at No. 2 singles by freshman Andy Colombo really jump-started the comeback. That cut what had been a 3-0 Washington lead to 3-2. Colombo kept hope alive for the Tigers with a 6-3, 4-6, 7-6 victory over 29th-ranked Alex Vlaski.
Colombo would have not had the chance to pull out his dramatic tie-break victory without a victory to keep the match going at No. 3 singles. Senior Tiago Ruffoni, who is ranked 50th in singles, took a 6-4, 6-4 win over Ari Strasberg. Ruffoni, a trooper for the Tigers in the NCAA Regional who was a key performer despite playing with a painfully sore elbow, used his six-foot-seven-inch frame and penetrating groundstrokes to help him take Auburn's only straight set victory of the night.
"This was truly a team victory," Shore said. "At first, we weren't playing well but we kept trying to find a way to win and we finally did. I am really pleased with the effort and so happy for all of the guys. Andre did a great job for us at No. 6 singles when the match was on the line."
The Huskies jumped to a 1-0 lead by taking the doubles point with victories at one and three while Colombo and Mark Kovacs were winning 8-7 at No. 2 over Matt Hanlin and Dillon Ruby when their match was stopped to begin singles play.
The Pac 10 team stretched its lead to 2-0 when senior Mark Kovacs fell 6-1, 7-6 to Christoph Palmanshofer. Auburn senior Estevam Strecker then went down 6-1, 6-2 at five singles to Ruby to make the score 3-0 Washington.
Auburn then won the remaining four singles matches to improve its record to 20-7 while Washington, an upset winner over Stanford in the NCAA Regional, ends its season at 19-7.
Half of the eight teams left in the competition for the team title are from the SEC. In addition to 12th-seeded Auburn and fourth-seeded UCLA, No. 1 seed Georgia will play Pepperdine on Sunday and No. 2 Tennessee faces No. 7 Kentucky. The other quarter-final match pits No. 3 Illinois vs. No. 11 Southern Cal.