Boiling Springs, N.C. - The Runnin' Bulldogs clawed their way back to make a competitive match after dropping the doubles point, but was unable to overcome its early deficit, falling by a 4-2 margin to visiting South Carolina State on Wednesday at the Webb Tennis Complex.
GWU (9-8, 3-4 Big South) was defeated at home for only the third time this season, falling in its eleventh home match of the Spring.
The doubles point would come down to No. 1 doubles. Matthew Parker and Ernest Alberch worked to an early lead, but saw the visiting Buldogs' Protsenko/Nikitin pairing pull away late to down GWU's tandem by an 8-4 margin.
In a 1-0 hole after doubles, Gardner-Webb needed a strong start in the first set during singles play. It was South Carolina State who controlled singles early, winning the first set at four of the six singles positions to seize control.
At No. 4 singles, Alberch (Torello, Spain) cruised to his fifth consecutive singles win, upending Aziz Yuldashev for a 6-0, 6-3 win to tie the match at 1-1.
Knutsson-Sundblad (Gothenburg, Sweden) looked sharp at No. 1 singles in his last home match as a Runnin' Bulldog. The senior defeated Thomas Bizon 6-4, 6-0 at the top of the lineup, giving Gardner-Webb a 2-1 lead.
South Carolina State evened the match with a win at No. 3, and took the lead after Protsenko prevailed at No. 2 singles, leaving GWU in the precarious position of having to win the remaining matches at No.'s 5 and 6 singles, after losing the first set in both.
The Runnin' Bulldogs kept fighting, as its No. 5 and 6 players, Parker (Marietta, Ga.) and Brendan Dempsey (Dublin, Ireland) respectively, battled during tight second sets to force tiebreaks.
At No. 6, Dempsey won the second set of his match against Dragoi to keep slim GWU hopes alive. However the hard-serving Stiburek would outlast Parker after a tiebreak at No. 5, sealing a 6-3, 7-6 (7-5) triumph and the overall match.
The No. 6 match between Dempsey and Dragoi ended at 4-6, 7-6 (7-1), 1-1 as unfinished.
Prior to the start of Wednesday's match, Runnin' Bulldog seniors Matthew Parker, Roman Piftor, and Adam Knutsson-Sundblad were recognized by head coach Mike Griffith for their invaluable contributions both on the court and off.
"I am so thankful for being able to be a part of these seniors' lives," said coach Griffith. "Obviously, we are going to miss their tennis abilities and what they have done for GWU on the court. But each of these three players has also been a great student and I want them to know, once a Runnin' Bulldog, always a Runnin' Bulldog."
"I couldn't ask for more as a coach than I've gotten out of these three student-athletes," added Griffith.
Gardner-Webb faces Appalachian State in non-conference play on Friday, April 12 at 2:30 p.m. prior to closing the regular season with a key matchup with fellow Big South member Radford on Saturday, April 13 at 1:00 p.m.