Tusculum downs Queens 5-1 to move into SAC Championship finals

Tusculum downs Queens 5-1 to move into SAC Championship finals

ROCK HILL, S.C. --- Tusculum advanced to the South Atlantic Conference Women's Tennis Championship finals with a 5-1 victory over Queens in semifinal action Friday afternoon at the Rock Hill Tennis Center.

The third-seeded Pioneers (19-6), ranked 39th in Division II by the Intercollegiate Tennis Association, swept doubles from the second-seeded Royals (12-4), then won two of the first three singles matches in straight sets to avenge a 7-2 regular-season loss to 50th-ranked Queens in Charlotte on April 1.

The Pioneers will face top-seeded Wingate in the championship match at noon on Saturday after the 33rd-ranked Bulldogs rallied from a 3-1 deficit to defeat Anderson 5-3 in the other semifinal matchup.

Tusculum jumped to a 3-0 lead over Queens in doubles, led by the flight three duo of Brittani Brooks and Amber Lackey which defeated Ana Bolson and Jaclyn Rock by a score of 8-4. Annie McCullough and Jule Brass extended the Pioneer lead to 2-0 with a 9-8 victory at flight two over Hannah Lehfeldt and Claire Hamilton, winning the tiebreaker 7-1.

The first-team All-SAC duo of Franziska Funke and Katarina Majorova rounded out the doubles sweep with an 8-5 win over Carlotta Nassi and Marta Gonzalez at flight one, avenging a tiebreaker loss in the regular-season meeting between the teams.

In singles, the Pioneers went up 4-0 as McCullough defeated Melissa Laing 6-4, 6-1 at flight three to put Tusculum within one point of clinching the match. Tusculum won the first set in three of the next four singles matches, with Funke finishing off a 6-4, 7-6 (7-4) win over Gonzalez at flight two in a matchup of All-Conference players to send the Pioneers to the SAC Championship match for the first time since 2014.

The Royals earned their lone point at flight four, where Caroline Nielsen defeated Africa Mota 7-5, 6-4 just prior to the conclusion of the match between Funke and Gonzalez. Of the three matches that were unfinished, Queens had a third-set lead at flight one and a second-set lead at flight six, while Tusculum had the lead in the third set at flight five.

Tusculum and Wingate have combined to win five of the last six SAC Championship tournament titles, but it will be the first time the teams have met for the championship. Wingate is seeking its fifth all-time SAC title, while Tusculum is aiming for its fourth, following 2004, 2008 and 2014. The Pioneers have dropped five straight regular-season meetings with the Bulldogs, four of which were by 5-4 scores including this year's matchup at Wingate on April 9.

The winner of Saturday's championship match will receive an automatic bid to the 2017 NCAA Division II Women's Tennis Championships, with regional action scheduled to begin April 29.