ATHENS, Ga.- Faced with adversity, No. 11 Stanford refocused.
Irritated and frustrated, No. 6 Kentucky unraveled.
In one of the wildest postseason finishes in recent memory, Stanford rallied for a 4-1 victory over Kentucky on Friday night in the round of 16 at the NCAA Tennis Championships.
The seedings might indicate an upset. However, Stanford's biggest victory of the year came in the form of a 4-1 win over then-No. 6 Kentucky back on Feb. 19 at the National Team Indoor Championships. So, the Cardinal entered Friday's match with confidence.
For the second straight season, Stanford has advanced to the quarterfinal round and will battle No. 2 Virginia on Sunday, May 20, at 1 p.m. PT.
"Kentucky is a great team," said head coach John Whitlinger. "They beat Georgia here. We had a great match with them at Indoors. They knew us and we knew them. After the doubles point, which was not close, we were able to refocus. I just told our guys to try and find that next gear; the gear that you don't think you have. Obviously, the guys did. I can't say enough about how these guys competed. This was a great team effort and I'm just very proud."
Despite losing the doubles point, the Cardinal (20-8, 5-2 Pac-12) stormed back to collect four straight singles victories to secure the match. John Morrissey's 6-1, 3-6, 5-4 (default) win at the No. 4 position provided the clincher, with the final match point awarded to Morrissey following an unsportsmanlike point penalty on Kentucky's Tom Jomby.
With Stanford leading 3-1 and two other matches also in progress, everyone's attention had already shifted to the developing finish on court four. Jomby had erased a 4-0 third-set deficit, but Morrissey managed to increase his lead to 5-4. With Morrissey serving for the match at 40-30, the chair official on court defaulted Jomby due to multiple code violations. Visibly frustrated and increasingly emotional throughout the entire match, Jomby pleaded his case to the chair umpire before tournament officials and coaches from both teams engaged in a lengthy on-court discussion that eventually stopped the action on court three.
When it was all said and done, Morrissey walked off the court without hitting another ball and recognized the Cardinal faithful in the stands as he left the court.
"I knew he was a very dangerous player," said Morrissey, who clinched his team-best sixth match of the year. "I got on top from the start and he made a few more errors than he probably usually does. In the second set, he came out and played good tennis. I think he caught me a little off guard, so it was really two different sets. Obviously, the third set was a little crazy. You don't like to win that way, but that's just the way it was today."
Meanwhile, the NCAA issued the following statement, offering this interpretation:
"The chair umpire said factually that the player intentionally hit the ball at the umpire. The student-athlete had already been assessed a point and game penalty earlier in the match. The umpire recommended imposing the next point penalty, which was the default. The referee, as a matter of law, ruled that hitting a ball at the umpire is at least a code violation and since next code violation was default, the match was over."
That Stanford was even in position to actually win the match was an accomplishment in itself. Kentucky (28-6, 11-0 SEC) proved to be too much to handle in doubles, quickly putting away Stanford with convincing victories at the Nos. 1 and 3 spots.
But losing the doubles point hasn't necessarily been a deal-breaker for Stanford this year. The Cardinal has dropped the doubles point 10 times, but has now found a way to win five of those matches.
When it came time for singles play, Stanford made its statement. The Cardinal responded emphatically, taking the first set on all six courts.
Bradley Klahn evened the match at 1-1, efficiently picking apart third-ranked Eric Quigley 6-1, 6-2 at the No. 1 spot. Looking sharper with every match since his return from injury, Klahn wrapped up the match so quickly that losing the doubles point became an afterthought.
Ryan Thacher put Stanford in front 2-1, defeating Alex Musialek 6-1, 7-5 at the No. 2 position. After experiencing little resistance in the first set, Thacher finally moved ahead 6-5 in the second frame and booked the match following a lengthy battle in which neither player seemingly could win back-to-back points.
Over on court five, Daniel Ho grinded out a 6-3, 2-6, 6-4 victory over Alejandro Gomez to give Stanford a 3-1 edge. Ho is now 7-1 in three-set matches this year.
That left three matches remaining, with Morrissey providing the clincher while Matt Kandath and Robert Stineman were both battling in third sets.
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NOTES: Making its 34th all-time NCAA Tournament appearance, Stanford is now 103-17 all-time in the postseason ... Stanford has now recorded at least 20 wins in four consecutive seasons ... Seeded No. 11 this year, Stanford had been seeded either eighth or ninth for the three previous seasons ... John Morrissey is 7-2 in three-set matches ... Bradley Klahn has lost just twice over his last 13 matches, with the only setbacks coming to the nation's top-ranked player in Steve Johnson of USC ... Stanford and Virginia also faced off at the National Team Indoor Championships, with the Cavaliers winning 4-1 back on Feb. 18. The Cardinal won the doubles point in that match.
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No. 11 Stanford 4, No. 6 Kentucky 1
1) No. 7 Jha/Quigley (KENT) d. Lin/Thacher (STAN) 8-2
2) Klahn/Morrissey (STAN) vs. No. 38 Musialek/Rossi (KENT) abandoned
3) Gomez/Jomby (KENT) d. Ball/Kandath (STAN) 8-2
Order of Finish: 3, 1
1) No. 36 Bradley Klahn (STAN) d. No. 3 Eric Quigley (KENT) 6-1, 6-2
2) No. 29 Ryan Thacher (STAN) d. No. 15 Alex Musialek (KENT) 6-1, 7-5
3) Matt Kandath (STAN) vs. No. 22 Anthony Rossi (KENT) abandoned
4) John Morrissey (STAN) d. No. 80 Tom Jomby (KENT) 6-1, 3-6, 5-4 (default)
5) Daniel Ho (STAN) d. No. 111 Alejandro Gomez (KENT) 6-3, 2-6, 6-4
6) Robert Stineman (STAN) vs. Grant Roberts (KENT) abandoned
Order of Finish: 1, 2, 5, 4