WALLA WALLA -- The final score says 8-1 in favor of the University of California-Santa Cruz, but the Whitman College men's tennis team gave the defending NCAA Division III champs a lot more trouble than the score indicates Saturday night in the Bratton Tennis Center.
The Banana Slugs, ranked No. 1 nationally to start the season, won two of three close decisions in doubles to grab a 2-1 lead.
Much to the chagrin of some 200 Whitman fans packed into the tennis facility, UC-Santa Cruz then swept all six matches in singles. All six were close and two went to three sets.
The loss dropped Whitman to 1-1 on the season while the Banana Slugs moved to 3-2, a record that includes losses to two NCAA Division I schools last week.
The Missionaries claimed their lone team point at No. 3 doubles, where seniors Jasper Follows and Jake Cappel notched a 9-8 (7-4) decision over Ulrich Capaul and Parker Larsen.
The outcome was just as close at No. 1 doubles, where Banana Slugs Brian Pybas and Marc Vartabedian staved off five match points to edge senior Matt Solomon and freshman Jeff Tolman by a 9-8 (7-3) count
At No. 2 doubles, senior Christoph Fuchs and junior Quin Miller came up a bit short, falling 8-6 to Erich Koening and Ian Stanley.
Of the first four matches played in singles, junior Chris Bailey fell in three sets at No. 2, losing 6-4, 2-6, 6-3 to Vartabedian. Fuchs nearly forced a third set in the No. 4 match, succumbing 6-2, 7-6 (7-5) to Silvo Chiba.
Pybas outpointed Solomon 6-4, 6-1 at No. 1 singles, and it was Koening slipping past Tolman 6-4, 6-4 at No. 3.
In the final two matches, sophomore Conor Holton-Burke stepped in for an ailing teammate at No. 6, where he dropped a 2-6, 6-1, 10-8 decision to Andre Halabi. At No. 5 singles, Cappel lost 6-3, 6-3 to Aaron Morrill.
Senior Nadeem Kassam, who played at No. 5 singles in Whitman's victory over Lewis-Clark State on Saturday, missed the Santa Cruz match because of a sore shoulder.
Junior Etienne Moshevich, one of Whitman's top players, missed both opening matches as he rehabs an injury from last spring.
Whitman takes the next two weeks off before opening Northwest Conference play on Saturday, Feb. 13, with matches at Pacific Lutheran and Puget Sound in Tacoma.
Whitman is the two-time NWC defending champion and has won 50 consecutive regular season matches in conference play.