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Pioneers win SAC Championship with 5-4 victory over Wingate

Pioneers win SAC Championship with 5-4 victory over Wingate

ROCK HILL, S.C. --- Tusculum won the South Atlantic Conference Women's Tennis Championship with a thrilling 5-4 victory over Wingate Saturday afternoon at the Rock Hill Tennis Center.

The Pioneers (20-6) earn the conference's automatic bid to the NCAA Division II Championship after winning the fourth SAC Tournament title in program history and first since 2014. Tusculum, ranked 39th in the latest ITA Division II poll, was seeded third in the tournament, but the Pioneers won three matches in three days to capture the league championship over the 33rd-ranked Bulldogs (17-4).

The top-seeded Bulldogs and Pioneers were tied 4-4 with one singles match remaining, as Tusculum's Africa Mota squared off with Oroma Womeodu at flight four. Womeodu won the first set 6-4, but Mota won the second set 6-4 to force a deciding set. Mota led 5-4 and 6-5 in the third set, but Womeodu held serve both times to force a tiebreaker for the title. Mota won the tiebreaker by a 7-5 score to snap Tusculum's five-match losing streak to Wingate, four of which were by 5-4 scores including this season.

Tusculum fell behind 1-0 in doubles as the Wingate team of Claudia De Andreis and Layla Tanik defeated Amber Lackey and Brittani Brooks 8-4 at flight three, but the Pioneers came back with a pair of wins to head into singles with a 2-1 lead. Katarina Majorova and Franziska Funke defeated Womeodu and Maria Garcia 8-6 at flight one, followed by a 9-7 win by Annie McCullough and Jule Brass over Andrea Ternera and Sydney Homan at flight two.

In singles, the Bulldogs evened the score at 2-2 as Tanik downed Brooks 6-3, 6-1 at flight five, then took a 3-2 lead as De Andreis swept Majorova 6-3, 6-3 at flight one. Tusculum received a boost at flight two as Funke survived a second-set tiebreaker for a 6-1, 7-6 victory over Ternera to tie the score at 3-3.

Wingate regained the lead briefly at flight six, where Homan rallied for a 5-7, 6-1, 6-3 win over Sarah Baker to bring the Bulldogs within one point of their fifth tournament title in seven years. However, McCullough kept the Pioneers alive with a 6-0, 2-6, 6-2 win over Elena Pellegrini at flight three to set up Mota and Womeodu for the championship.

Funke was named SAC Championship Most Valuable Player after going 3-0 in singles and 3-0 in doubles for the Pioneers during the tournament, winning all three of her singles matches in straight sets while teaming with Majorova for three doubles victories.

Tusculum will be making its eighth NCAA Division II Championship tournament appearance and first since winning the SAC Championship title in 2014. The Pioneers will learn the site and opponent for the Southeast Regional when the field is announced Tuesday night at 8 p.m. on the NCAA Web site at ncaa.com.

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