SURPRISE, Ariz. — The Westmont men’s tennis team (7-10) left everything they had on the court Wednesday, but in the end, the Arizona Christian Firestorm (12-7) sent the Warriors home in the GSAC Tournament Semifinals.
ACU came back to win a pivotal doubles point at the beginning of the match and successfully fended off Westmont’s last push as the Firestorm punched their ticket to the GSAC Championship with a 4-2 win.
“I really love this team,” said Westmont Head Coach Mark Basham. “Really, this is one of my favorite Westmont teams of all time, if not my favorite.
“We played considerably better today than when we lost to them at home. What was tough today, is we had to fight hard after losing that doubles point. We were right there and didn’t get it, and that was tough.
In doubles, Joseph Hemry and Owen Vander Ark flipped a total 180 after falling 6-2 to Hope International on Tuesday. On Wednesday, Hemry and Vander Ark came out on fire and blanked Jose Dominguez and Andres Vasquez 6-0 for the early advantage.
After Benny Saito and Tristan Wright fell 6-4 on three, all eyes turned to All-GSAC duo Ethan Ha and Logan Thompson, who were looking to play hero for the Warriors. After falling down early, the men tied the set first at 5-5, then at 6-6 to force a doubles-deciding tiebreaker.
At the beginning of the tiebreaker, it appeared to be Westmont’s moment in the sun. After going up 4-0, Ha and Thompson screamed toward the heavens as they could see the finish line in sight. After letting the Firestorm creep back within striking distance, the Warriors went back up 6-4 and had a chance to win it with their next serve.
When the Warriors went up 6-4, Ha turned his teammates and let out an emphatic roar, as Westmont was on the brink of a pivotal doubles point.
Then the club’s heart was broken when Anthony Popyrin and Jonas Wand strung together three consecutive points to win it 7-6, claiming the doubles point for Arizona Christian.
“Logan and Ethan have won a lot of huge matches for us,” assured Basham. “They have been getting it done all year. and today it just didn’t go our way. That was hard.
“I was so proud of Joseph and Owen after yesterday, coming in and winning so decisively today. They really set the tone, and we just couldn’t quite get it done on one.”
In singles, the Firestorm took two of the first three matches and looked primed to potentially put the Warriors away quickly. On one, Popyrin made quick work of Thompson, posting a 6-2, 6-2 win. On two, Hemry capped off his stellar season with a 6-3, 6-3 win, but on six, Saito fell 6-2, 6-0 rather quickly.
With three matches left to play, Westmont needed all three in order to prolong their season. Remarkably, Ha, Vander Ark, and Wright all pushed their matches to a decisive third set.
In Ha’s match, he took the first set over Andre Millet by a score of 6-3, but fell in the second 6-2. Ha was the first Warrior to complete his third set, and he did his part, outlasting Millet 6-2 to give Westmont a chance.
Then, on four and five, Vander Ark and Wright were clinging on for dear life. Down 5-4 on five, Wright successfully earned a break, fending off elimination and allowing his Warrior teammates one final opportunity to scream and shout.
Unfortunately, Vander Ark could not do the same, as his final swing of the day sent the ball into the net, officially giving Dominguez a 6-4 win in the third set. Dominguez’ Firestorm teammates flooded the court, and Vander Ark fell to the ground in defeat.
Although their season had just come to an end, Vander Ark’s teammates did not hesitate to make their way to him. The Warriors, spending several minutes huddled around Vander Ark, consoled their friend on the final court they would set foot on together this season.
“Our guys were so gritty,” said a proud Basham. “It looked like we weren’t going to make it a tight battle in singles, but my gosh. Owen played a heck of a doubles match and a really good singles match. I know he’s really gutted right now, but he fought so hard. He did everything he could to try and win that last game. It just didn’t happen.
“I am so proud of Joseph. He played amazing in doubles yesterday, and amazing in both his matches today. I was really proud to see Ethan comeback as well after losing the second set. Tristan was probably going to win his match at the end. He was in a dogfight and I was really happy with the tournament he had.”
As Basham’s 13th season came to a close, the coach offered one last bit of wisdom to his players before leaving the court.
“As I told the guys, we learn more from our losses than we do from our wins,” shared Basham. “I know they’re upset, because they really care for each other, but I am so proud of them. They gave everything they had and played one of the best matches they could. It was a great college match, and it’s just too bad we couldn’t do it.”
Jacob Norling is the sports information assistant at Westmont College.