From staff reports/Photo by Allen Sharpe
Senior Andrew Schafer won his 100th career singles match Friday to lead No. 20 South Carolina to a 5-0 win over East Tennessee State in the first round of the NCAA Tournament in Chapel Hill, N.C.
Alex Fennell's three-set win at No. 5 singles sealed the win for South Carolina's 21st win of the season.
The Gamecocks (21-6) jumped out to an early leas by winning lines 1 and 3 in doubles to take the doubles point. Paul Jubb and Thomas Mayronne won their No. 3 match with Wenceslao Albin and David Gonazalez, 6-1. Harrison O’Keefe and Yancy Dennis, who are ranked No. 13 in the nation, took advantage of a break at 2-0 to establish an early advantage and closed the match on a service break for a 6-2 win.
Schafer set the tone early in singles, establishing a quick 3-1 lead over Diego Nunez in the No. 3 spot as the Gamecocks went on to win four of six first sets. The last of those came with O’Keefe battling out a 7-6 (6) tiebreak over Robert Herrera in the No. 2 spot.
Dennis and Jubb also took their first sets in the Nos. 4 and 6 matches, respectively. After Schafer closed out his milestone victory, which moved him into ninth on the Gamecocks’ all-time career singles wins list, just one behind legendary Gamecock Stephane Simian in eighth place, Dennis made it a 3-0 South Carolina with a late break of Miguel Este for a 6-1, 6-3 victory.
Fennell shook off his first-set setback to power home a 6-0 second-set win over Gonzalez shortly after O’Keefe wrapped up his first-set tiebreak. Jubb yielded his second set to Albin, but Fennell and O’Keefe refused to let the Bucs wrest the momentum.
O’Keefe took Herrera’s opening service game of the second set and continued to keep him under control in longer rallies throughout the set. Fennell got his break in the fourth game, pulling ahead 3-1 as Jubb began his third set on the next court.
Fennell was relentless in pursuit of his first NCAA Tournament victory since 2014, collecting another break for a 5-1 lead. O’Keefe was staying the course on Court 2, and both Gamecocks ended up serving for their matches and the team victory simultaneously. Capped by an aggressive serve that set up an easy half-volley up the line on match point, Fennell delivered the 2-6, 6-0, 6-1 win just before O’Keefe closed out a long rally to take his 7-6 (6), 6-4 victory.
The Gamecocks, who have 21 wins on the season for the first time since 1997-98, will face the winner of Friday’s afternoon’s match between No. 9 North Carolina and VCU on Saturday.