URBANA, Ill.- And this was just the round of 16.
In a match that felt more like the national title was on the line, No. 12 Stanford knocked off No. 5 USC 4-3 on Friday evening in exactly five hours at the NCAA Championships.
When it was all said and done, Ellen Tsay clinched her team-leading seventh match of the year with a 5-7, 7-5, 6-3 victory over Gabriella DeSimone 5-7, 7-5, 6-3 on court five.
Conference matchups often become unavoidable once the round of 16 begins, and Stanford (19-4, 8-2 Pac-12) entered the match facing a clear obstacle. Pac-12 champion USC (23-3, 9-0 Pac-12) notched a 6-1 victory back on March 30 and eliminated the Cardinal from last year's postseason in the quarterfinals.
Taking the court nearly two hours after its original start of 12 p.m. local time, Stanford was up to the task. The Cardinal became the first team this season to snag the doubles point from USC, taking a 1-0 lead in dramatic fashion.
The deciding doubles match was a rollercoaster on court one between the No. 8-ranked duo of Kristie Ahn and Nicole Gibbs against USC's No. 2-ranked pair of Kaitlyn Christian and Sabrina Santamaria. Ahn and Gibbs trailed 4-1, stormed back to lead 7-4, only to then fall behind 8-7. However, Ahn and Gibbs bounced back for what would be a tone-setting 9-8 (2) victory.
Stacey Tan followed with a 6-2, 6-2 victory over Giuliana Olmos at the No. 4 spot, putting Stanford in front 2-0.
USC registered its first point at the No. 6 position, when Kaitlyn Christian put away Natalie Dillon 6-3, 6-1, trimming the deficit to 2-1.
Stanford then received a boost at the top of the lineup when Gibbs suddenly reversed her match against USC's Santamaria, ranked No. 2 in the country. Santamaria led 5-1 and 6-5 in the first set before Gibbs came all the way back for a 7-6 (3) win and ultimately rode that momentum to a 6-2 win in the second frame.
Trailing 3-1, USC answered the call. The Trojans received a 6-3, 7-6 (5) triumph from Zoe Scandalis on court three and a 6-4, 2-6, 7-5 nail-biter from Danielle Lao at the No. 2 spot.
That left the match riding on court five, where DeSimone and Tsay had already traded 7-5 victories. Tied at 3-3 in the final set, Tsay ripped off three straight games for the win.
Stanford next faces No. 4 Georgia on Sunday at 10 a.m. PT in the quarterfinals.
No. 12 Stanford 4, No. 5 USC 3
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1) No. 8 Ahn/Gibbs (STAN) d. No. 2 Christian/Santamaria (USC) 9-8 (2)
2) Olmos/Scandalis (USC) d. No. 28 Tan/Tsay (USC) 8-6
3) Dillon/Hardebeck (STAN) d. DeSimone/Lao (USC) 8-1
Order of Finish: 3, 2, 1
1) No. 13 Nicole Gibbs (STAN) d. No. 2 Sabrina Santamaria (USC) 7-6 (3), 6-2
2) No. 9 Danielle Lao (USC) d. No. 25 Kristie Ahn (STAN) 6-4, 2-6, 7-5
3) No. 27 Zoe Scandalis (USC) d. No. 14 Krista Hardebeck (STAN) 6-3, 7-6 (5)
4) No. 103 Stacey Tan (STAN) d. Giuliana Olmos (USC) 6-2, 6-2
5) No. 92 Ellen Tsay (STAN) d. Gabriella DeSimone (USC) 5-7, 7-5, 6-3
6) Kaitlyn Christian (USC) d. Natalie Dillon (STAN) 6-3, 6-1
Order of Finish: 4, 6, 1, 3, 2, 5
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NOTES: Stanford and Georgia will be meeting for the first time since a 4-0 Cardinal victory in the quarterfinals of the 2011 NCAA Tournament ... The Cardinal won the doubles point for the 21st time in 23 matches ... Ellen Tsay improved to 3-4 on the year and 4-7 in her career in three-set matches. Tsay lost to DeSimone 6-1, 7-6 (3) earlier this year ... Nicole Gibbs is once again locked in for the postseason and that's bad news for her opponents. Gibbs owns a 22-1 career record in the month of May ... Stacey Tan defeated Giuliana Olmos for the second time this year. Tan accounted for Stanford's only point in the 6-1 loss at USC when she defeated Olmos 6-2, 7-6 (5) at the No. 4 spot ... The University of Illinois is hosting the NCAA Championships for the first time.
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Stanford head coach Lele Forood
"It was a marathon match. It's really sweet. We had to really battle through USC. They eliminated us in the tournament last year. They killed us 6-1 at their place a little over a month ago. We were looking for payback. It was a very close match and really, it could have gone either way."
"Absolutely a huge doubles point. For our No. 1 team to beat a team that hasn't lost all year, ranked No. 2 in the country, that was big. We know we have the talent and worked really hard on our tactics and strategies for that match. Nicole and Kristie competed really well. I think getting out to a nice little lead in the tiebreaker helped also."
Stanford sophomore Ellen Tsay
"This is the first match I really felt like I clinched. In the other ones I've clinched, other people on our team were up, and if I hadn't won my match, we probably would have won. This is the biggest moment for me so far in my two years."
"It started from the moment I stepped on the court. If I had waited until I was the clinching match and suddenly tried to be mentally tough, that wouldn't have worked. We were all very intense today. We really wanted to get our revenge from the previous matches. From the moment I stepped on the court, I was ready to hunker down."
Stanford junior Nicole Gibbs
"That was a huge doubles point. For Kristie and I individually, and for the entire team. We lost to them in the regular season and looked like we had no business being on the court with them on that day. We went up 7-4 and I think we started feeling some nerves, maybe deviated from the game plan a bit. But we battled back so hard from 8-7 and that was probably one of the most emotional matches I have ever played in doubles or singles. We started feeding off each other."
"Down 5-1 in my singles match, I wanted to show her I could stick around if I got a chance in the second set. As I got to 5-2, 5-3, 5-4, I realized I had a chance in that match and then kicked it into overdrive. I battled through set points and that was a confidence-inspiring match for me."