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Fresno Pacific, Oklahoma Christian Claim Semifinal Victories

May 18, 2012
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By Jake Knabel, NAIA Communications & Sports Information Intern

MOBILE, Ala. – The final volley of Friday’s semifinals came from the racket of Embry-Riddle’s (Fla.) Simon Felix and sailed into the net, setting off a frenzied reaction from an Oklahoma Christian squad that fought back valiantly. The on-looking victorious Eagles raced onto the court and celebrated by dog-piling on top of Jaime Sanchez-Canamares, who clinched the 5-4 Oklahoma Christian win at No. 3 singles (6-4, 3-6, 6-2).

“After the doubles, we felt down,” Sanchez-Canamares said. “You have a lot of questions in your head. But we’ve got an amazing group, an amazing team. We have confidence. It was me who won the last point, but any one of my teammates could have done it.”

With the win, Oklahoma Christian joins top-seeded Fresno Pacific (Calif.) in Saturday’s title match. Oklahoma Christian returns to the championship final for the first time since it defeated Azusa Pacific (Calif.), 5-1, in the 2003 title match.

“Typically, you give up all three points on the doubles court and it’s very a long day,” Oklahoma Christian head coach Kris Miller said. “And we had a long day. We had to really battle, really fight. I really challenged the guys between singles and doubles. I asked them, ‘do you really want to go home after all this work all year long?’ And they responded very well.”

Oklahoma Christian trailed 3-0 after three close losses in doubles play. Needing to win five singles, Oklahoma Christian’s run at the tournament appeared to be over. But after wins at Nos. 5 and 6 singles, Miller’s squad had a glimmer of hope. His team then triumphed at Nos.1 and 2, both in three sets, and then dropped No. 4 singles in three sets to set the stage for the heroics of Sanchez-Canamares.

It’s a stinging loss for Embry-Riddle, which made it to the championship final for the first time in school history last season.

“To go up 3-0 was good, but we knew that all six singles matches would be close,” Embry-Riddle head coach Dave Paschal said. “Obviously four of them go three-setters. But hats off to Oklahoma Christian. Down 3-0, they fought for every match. They just wanted it more, I guess. They gutted it out, so credit to them.”

The top-half of the bracket featured a pair of Golden State Athletic Conference rivals in Fresno Pacific and Azusa Pacific. The Sunbirds improved to 3-0 this season against the Cougars with a 5-2 victory in Friday’s semifinal. The Fresno Pacific men salvaged the day for a tennis program that saw its women’s squad fall to Embry-Riddle earlier in the day.

“Our big talk with the men before the match was to not let what happened with the women carry over to them,” Sunbird head coach Neil Castro said.

“To go up 2-1, I think we feel very confident with our singles guys that 1 through 6, we can get three wins off everybody. We played a little more relaxed at singles, but they (Azusa Pacific) competed hard. This is the third time we played them this year, and I thought this was the toughest they played us.”

The Cougars finished their season at 21-3 overall with all three losses coming at the hands of Fresno Pacific.

“Hats off to Fresno,” Azusa Pacific head coach Mark Bohren said. “They beat us three times this season so they definitely deserve to move on. We’ve had a great season. That was the only team we lost to. We finished 21-3, very happy.

“The only thing I hate is when the season’s finally over when you lose here.”

The Sunbirds will vie for their third title in school history (won 2009 and 2011 titles) when the championship final begins at 2 p.m. CDT at Mobile Tennis Center on Saturday. The Fresno Pacific-Oklahoma Christian duel is a rematch of last season’s semifinal when the Sunbirds ousted the Eagles, 5-2. Sanchez-Canamares, who played at No. 6 singles for Fresno Pacific last season, will face his former school.