INDIAN WELLS, Calif. – The No. 3-seeded Gauchos used their "secret weapon" to down No. 6 UC Riverside at the Big West Championships on Thursday to advance to a semifinals match against rivals, No. 2-seeded Cal Poly. Freshman Luke Steeb, who had yet to play a dual match for the Gauchos this season, clinched the 4-2 victory with a comeback win at No. 6 singles to improve UCSB's record to 9-13 on the season and end the Highlanders' season at 2-22.
The Gauchos were again without ace, Tobias Galskov, and had to make some adjustments to the regular lineup, moving everyone up from their normal positions. Freshman Luke Steeb was inserted into the lineup at No. 6 singles and made most of his opportunity with an impressive win.
"Luke has done well in practice, so we decided to change things up a bit," said Head Coach Marty Davis.
Steeb won his first set 6-4, but faced a 2-5 deficit against opponent Sina Sharifi just as UC Riverside had edged a little closer to the Gauchos with a victory at No. 5 singles to make the score 3-2. Steeb rattled off five straight games to clinch his match and the first round win for the Gauchos.
"This was a perfect match for him to win," stated Davis. "For him to come through under pressure was a good confidence booster."
Santa Barbara got off to a fast start with a dominating showing in the doubles competition. Gaucho veterans Sasha Gryaznov and Ziad Sultan were first off the courts with a shutout victory at No. 1 doubles and teammates Teague Hamilton and Andrew Riminton followed up with an 8-1 triumph against Riverside's Gastao/Robles No. 3 doubles to secure the doubles point for UCSB. Erik Johnsson and Miles Seemann were leading their match 7-4 at No. 2 doubles before play was suspended.
The Gauchos extended their lead to 3-0 after freshmen Teague Hamilton and Erik Johnsson earned back-to-back victories at No. 4 and No. 3 singles, respectively, to remain perfect in conference play. Hamilton topped Julian Ruffin 6-1, 6-2 and Johnsson almost pulled off a shutout at No. 3 singles, downing Jack Felich 6-0, 6-1.
"Erik is playing very, very well and he's improved a lot just in this last month and Teague continues to just get better every day," said Coach Davis of his freshmen.
UC Riverside made things interesting with wins at No. 2 and No. 5 singles, but freshmen Luke Steeb squashed any hopes of an upset with his victory.
With the win, the Gauchos advance to a semifinal showdown against No. 2 Cal Poly. UCSB was edged 4-3 by the Mustangs in their season finale last Saturday but have had a week off to prepare for their rivals.
"We worked specifically on examining the strengths and weaknesses of Mustang players," said Davis. "The match ups won't be much different with the exception of Luke Steeb in the lineup."
The Gauchos hope to move another step closer to defending their title with a win tomorrow against Cal Poly at 3:00 p.m. at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden.
No. 3 UCSB (4), No. 6 UC Riverside (2)
April 24, 2014
Indian Wells Tennis Garden (Indian Wells, Calif.)
1. Gryaznov/Sultan (UCSB) def. Bridge/Carella (UCR) - 8-0
2. Johnsson/Seemann (UCSB) vs. Felich/Ruffin (UCR) – DNF
3. Hamilton/Riminton (UCSB) def. Gastao/Robles (UCR) - 8-1
Order of finish: 1, 3
1. Ziad Sultan (UCSB) vs. Luis Gastao (UCR) - DNF
2. Cooper Bridge (UCR) def. Sasha Gryaznov (UCSB) - 0-6, 6-2, 6-4
3. Erik Johnsson (UCSB) def. Jack Felich (UCR) - 6-0, 6-1
4. Teague Hamilton (UCSB) def. Julian Ruffin (UCR) - 6-1, 6-2
5. Sean Yun (UCR) def. Miles Seemann (UCSB) - 6-3, 6-4
6. Luke Steeb (UCSB) def. Sina Sharifi (UCR) - 6-4, 7-5
Order of finish: 4, 3, 5, 2, 6
First Round: April 24
No. 3 UC Santa Barbara def. No. 6 UC Riverside, 4-2
No. 4 UC Davis def. No. 5 UC Irvine, 4-0
Semifinals: April 25
No. 1 Hawai'i vs. No. 4 UC Davis (3:00 PM)
No. 2 Cal Poly vs. No. 3 UC Santa Barbara (3:00 PM)
Championships: April 27
Semifinal winners (9:00 AM)