Ohio State’s history of painful losses in the NCAA men’s tennis tournament continued Thursday.
The top-seeded Buckeyes were unable to complete a comeback and fell 4-2 to No. 9 North Carolina in the quarterfinals in Orlando, Florida.
Ohio State had reason to believe this would be the year it finally captured the only championship that has eluded it in Ty Tucker’s tenure as coach. The Buckeyes won the ITA Indoor National championship in February. They hadn’t lost a match this season in which No. 1 player JJ Wolf had played.
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But the Tar Heels jumped on the Buckeyes early. Tucker puts a premium on the doubles point, but Ohio State (31-3) lost it for only the third time this season when John McNally and Hunter Tubert lost 6-2 in the decisive set after Alex Kobelt and Kyle Seelig lost their set.
The Tar Heels pushed their lead to 3-0 with straight-set victories over Martin Joyce at No. 4 and Kobelt at No. 5.
“We got punched in the mouth early,” Tucker said. “We find ourselves down 3-0 in an hour or hour and 15 minutes.”
That required the Buckeyes to win all four remaining singles matches. They got halfway there. Seelig at No. 3 won 6-3, 6-4 and Wolf at No. 1 prevailed 7-5, 6-4 over William Blumberg, who was an NCAA singles finalist as a freshman two years ago.
That left it up to McNally at No. 2 and Hunter Tubert at No. 6. Tubert won his first set but lost the second. While his third set was close throughout — and didn’t end up finishing — McNally’s against Benjamin Sigouin was a roller coaster.
McNally won the first set 6-3, but lost the second by the same score. In the third set, McNally fell behind 3-0 when Sigouin broke his serve twice.
McNally won three straight points after trailing 40-15 to break back and then won the next three games to take the lead. But Sigouin won the next two games, giving him a chance to serve for the match.
McNally won two of the first three points, but Siguoin served a second-serve ace to even the game at 30-30. On the next point, McNally called a Siguoin shot out, only to have the umpire overrule him to set up match point. McNally hit a backhand wide to end Ohio State’s chances.
The Buckeyes lost in the finals to host Wake Forest a year ago and have come tantalizingly close to an NCAA title several other times recently.
“Hats off to Carolina,” Tucker said. “They stepped up in a big moment and came through.
“We just put ourselves in too big of a hole.”
North Carolina will play No. 4 Wake Forest in the semifinals on Saturday.
Wolf, McNally and Seelig will play in the NCAA singles tournament next week. Joyce and Tubert will play in the doubles tournament.
Ohio State freshman Isabelle Boulais will play in the women’s singles tournament.