Bulldogs fail to reach NCAA quarterfinals for first time in 10 years

The NCAA men’s tennis quarterfinals will be held on Georgia’s home courts without the Bulldogs playing in them.

For the first time since 2004, the Bulldogs didn’t get past the round of 16.

Tenth-seeded Georgia saw its season come to an end Friday with a 4-2 loss to No. 7 North Carolina at the Dan Magill Tennis Complex.

Brett Clark sent an ace past Georgia senior Garrett Brasseaux and the Tar Heels mobbed him on court three as he clinched the match with a 6-4, 7-6 (3) win.

Georgia’s Nathan Pasha consoled teammate Brasseaux after the match.

“There’s nothing you really can say,” Pasha said. “I kind of just wanted him to feel my comfort and support.”

North Carolina (27-5) reached the quarterfinals for just second time in program history even with three freshmen in its singles lineup. It will play Sunday against No. 2 Oklahoma, which cruised past No. 15 Kentucky 4-0.

In other matches Friday, top-seed Southern California defeated upstart Columbia 5-0, No. 9 Texas turned back California 4-1, defending national champion and No. 4 Virginia beat No. 13 Notre Dame 4-1, No. 5 Baylor defeated No. 12 Illinois 4-0 and No. 6 UCLA eliminated Tennessee 4-0. No. 3 Ohio State and No. 14 Florida were playing a late match.

Georgia (18-8) won the Southeastern Conference regular season title going 11-1, but lost in the quarterfinals of the SEC tournament to Vanderbilt. It regrouped and was hoping to make another deep tournament run.

The Bulldogs, winners of six NCAA titles, saw its 27-match home winning streak come to an end.

‚ÄúA lot of teams would kill to have the season that we had, making the round of 16 in the NCAAs and winning their conference,‚Äù Pasha said. ‚ÄúIt‚Äôs just that we set our expectations so high each year to win a championship. We made the final four last year, so anything less than that’s absolutely a disappointment.‚Äù

Coach Manuel Diaz said his team “fought a very good battle. North Carolina just outplayed us. They did a much better job than we did and deserved to win. They did a much better job than we did taking care of our serve.”

Georgia had made nine straight trips to the quarterfinals and had reached at least the semifinals six of the last eight years.

“We had a lot of challenges,” Diaz said. “That’s the way life is. I don’t think we ever got down and out. For that I’m very proud. Obviously we came up short in our goal to go deeper or win a national championship. Very rarely does the season go the way you want it to go. It’s peaks and valleys and challenges you’ve got to overcome. We’ll be better for all the hurdles we had to overcome this year.”

One of the hurdles was not having South African Wayne Montgomery, a former top 10 ranked world junior player who enrolled in January but was declared ineligible by the NCAA.

Ben Wagland was suspended during the ITA indoors in February after receiving a code violation and the sophomore also dealt with wrist and knee injuries this season.

The latest obstacle was a knee injury to Pasha, one of Georgia’s top players, that cropped up this month.

It forced him to sit out singles in the first two rounds and prompted Diaz to hold him out of the doubles lineup on Friday.

Nick Wood replaced Pasha in doubles and lost along with Brasseaux 8-7 (1) to Jack Murray and Ronnie Schneider on court 3. The No. 1 team of Hernus Pieters and Wagland fell 8-6 to Brett Clark and Brayden Schnur.

Georgia went ahead 2-1 moments apart when Pieters on court six won 6-3, 6-3 over Nelson Vick and Ben Wagland dropped Oystein Sterio 7-5, 6-3.

The Bulldogs dropped the first set on four of the six singles courts, including on No. 2 where Pasha couldn’t hold a 5-1 lead in a first set tiebreaker and fell 7-6 (9), 6-3 to Ronnie Schneider even the match at 2-2.

Pasha said he wasn’t bothered by the knee, but was just outplayed.

“I’ve just got to be able to close it out, and I didn’t do it,” Pasha said.

Georgia certainly had the crowd of 2,159 behind it even though North Carolina had its own contingent of backers.

After a forehand winner in the first set, Pasha cupped his ear to urge on crowd.

“Woof, woof, woof!,” he heard back.

Said North Carolina’s Clark, who posted his school-record 37th victory: “It’s a great atmosphere but the thing I told myself was focus on every point.”

On court one, Schnur threw hit hat in air and waved his arms to the Tar Heels fans when Austin Smith hit a ball in the net in a 6-2, 3-6, 6-2 decision for a 3-2 North Carolina lead.

Brasseaux battled after losing the first set, but couldn’t survive the second set tiebreaker and the Tar Heels avenged a round of 16 loss to Georgia here in 2012.

The only other time the Tar Heels got past the round of 16 was in 1992 when Athens native Joe Frierson was a senior on the team.

“We were fighting the Georgia team, the Georgia crowd today and the tradition that they have,” Tar Heels coach Sam Paul said. “I’m really proud of my team that they were able to just focus and just play and go to work.”

Brasseaux and Pieters are the only seniors on Georgia’s roster.

“I know we had bigger goals in this tournament but we all fought our hearts out,” Brasseaux said.

With the addition of Montgomery, Michigan native Paul Oosterbaan after a redshirt year, North Oconee’s Peter Bertran and Atlanta’s Andy Martinez, the bar will remain high for 2015.

“We think,” Pasha said, “we’ll be one of the top five teams.”

Follow Marc online at twitter.com/marcweiszer.