Pioneers drop 4-3 heartbreaker to Flagler in NCAA opener

Pioneers drop 4-3 heartbreaker to Flagler in NCAA opener

COLUMBUS, Ga. --- Flagler College won the final singles match for a 4-3 victory over Tusculum University in the first round of the NCAA Division II Women's Tennis Southeast Region tournament Monday afternoon at the Walden Tennis Center.

The sixth-seeded Saints (17-6), ranked 18th in Division II by the ITA, advance to face the second-seeded host Cougars, who beat Emmanuel 4-0 in the first match of the day on Monday. The winner of Tuesday's contest will advance out of the region to the Round of 16 in Altamonte Springs, Florida starting May 22.

The Pioneers (17-4), seeded third in the region and ranked 16th nationally, won the doubles point and had a 2-1 lead in singles, but the Saints won two matches nearly simultaneously to take a 3-2 lead. Tusculum tied the match at 3-3 with a three-set win from Africa Mota at flight six, but Flagler's Lixin Wang won in three sets at flight four to clinch the victory for the Saints.

Tusculum grabbed a quick 1-0 lead in doubles as the 22nd-ranked duo of Annie McCullough and Caitlin McCullough teamed to beat Alessandra Traub and Eden Schlagenhauf 6-0 at flight one. Emilie Hansen and Brittani Brooks provided the clinching doubles point with a 6-2 win at flight three over the Saints' Paloma Martinez and Felicitas Runkel.

The third doubles match, a flight two battle between ranked opponents, was halted after Brooks and Hansen earned their win. Tusculum's 49th-ranked team of Mota and Julia Lopez led Flagler's 46th-ranked duo of Wang and Anika Nissen 3-2 at the point of stoppage.

Flagler leveled the score at 1-1 as Nissen beat Hansen 6-2, 6-1 at flight three, but Annie McCullough put Tusculum back ahead as the 33rd-ranked Pioneer beat Runkel 6-3, 6-3 at flight one. The Saints vaulted ahead 3-2 in the match as Traub beat Martina Marras 6-2, 6-4 at flight five and 65th-ranked Schlagenhauf downed Caitlin McCullough 6-3, 7-5 at flight two.

Needing two wins to rally for the victory, Tusculum got one of the wins at flight six as Mota held on for a 6-4, 3-6, 6-0 win over Martinez to knot the score at 3-3. However, Wang beat Lopez 7-5, 0-6, 6-2 at flight four to send the Saints to the second round.

Tusculum was making its third straight NCAA Tournament appearance after winning its first South Atlantic Conference regular-season championship since 2010.