With the win, the Huskies improve to 16-8 and will face No. 2 Western Michigan, who topped third-seeded Buffalo, 4-2. NIU also earned their first MAC finals appearance since 2004, while becoming only the second team in MAC history since 2000 to beat a No. 1 seed in the semi-finals.
“(Doubles) was really the difference between us winning and losing today,” said NIU head coach Patrick Fisher. “Both teams came out really tight and nervous, but that’s just a part of playing in championships. This year, I’ve been saying it all year long, any one of these four teams can win.”
“At number one (doubles), they stepped up for us. Max (Phillips) played unbelievable for us in doubles and that was a huge lift for us.”
NIU got on the board first against the top-seeded Cardinals by winning two tightly-contested doubles matches. After dropping second doubles, Frederic Cadieux and Max Phillips knotted things up by defeating BSU’s Ray Leonard and Pat Elliott, 8-6. Dor Amir and Simon Formont clinched the doubles point via a 9-8 tiebreaker against Imanol Arconada and Alex Brym.
Ball State moved ahead with a 2-1 lead following wins at #4 and #5 singles. Yet, NIU battled back against the Cardinals. At top singles, Axel Lagerlof put forth one of his best matches of the season by knocking off BSU’s Ray Leonard in straight sets 6-3, 6-2.
The Huskies reclaimed the lead with an unconventional win at #2 singles. After dropping the first set, Cadieux battled back in the second set and held a commanding 5-0 lead. That is when his opponent, Cliff Morrison, injured his ankle and was forced to retire, giving NIU a critical third point with two matches left.
Amir, the sophomore from Tel Aviv, Israel, put away the Cardinals with a great comeback. Following a first set win, Amir was forced to battle back from an early deficit against Dalton Albertin in the second set. However, the Huskie rallied and took a 6-5 lead before Albertin forced a tiebreak situation. With the added pressure, Amir delivered with a 7-4 tiebreaker win to send the Huskies into Saturday’s championship match.
The MAC title match between NIU and WMU will take place at 1 p.m. on the Huskie Tennis Courts. If inclement weather comes, the match will be moved to the Vaughan Athletic Center in Aurora, Ill.
#4 Northern Illinois 4, #1 Ball State 2
Huskie Tennis Courts
No. 1: Axel Lagerlof (NIU) def. Ray Leonard (BSU) 6-3, 6-2
No. 2: Frederic Cadieux (NIU) def. Cliff Morrison (BSU) 3-6, 5-0 Retired
No. 3: Dor Amir (NIU) def. Dalton Albertin (BSU) 6-2, 7-6 (7-4)
No. 4: Imanol Arconada (BSU) def. Jovan Zeljkovic (NIU) 6-2, 6-3
No. 5: Pat Elliott (BSU) def. Max Phillips (NIU) 6-0, 6-1
No. 6: Simon Formont (NIU) vs. Austin Smith (BSU) 6-2, 4-6, 2-1 Unfinished
No. 1: Frederic Cadieux/Max Phillips (NIU) def. Ray Leonard/Pat Elliott (BSU) 8-6
No. 2: Dalton Albertin/Cliff Morrison (BSU) def. Axel Lagerlof/Jovan Zeljkovic (NIU) 8-3
No. 3: Dor Amir/Simon Formont (NIU) def. Imanol Arconada/Alex Brym (BSU) 9-8 (7-4)
For more information on NIU men’s tennis and Huskie athletics, visit www.niuhuskies.com.