The Butler men’s tennis team was never able to hit full stride last Thursday during its first-round matchup in the Horizon League Championship.
The No. 5-seed Bulldogs suffered a narrow 4-3 loss to No. 4-seed UIC in a match that saw senior Brandon Bayliss’ first conference singles loss of the season.
The Flames started red hot and swept doubles play to begin the match.
But the Bulldogs began to settle their postseason nerves, led by senior Chris Herron’s No. 2 singles victory over senior Luiz Gonzaga, 6-4, 6-0.
Junior Zach Ervin won the No. 3 singles match, 6-1, 6-1, and senior Lenz Theodor picked up the No. 5 singles victory, 7-5, 6-1, to tie the match at three.
In the end, the effort in singles play was not enough to make up for the poor doubles performance and the point lost at the beginning of the day.
The team was back on the courts the following day for the fifth-place consolation match. Butler faced No. 6 Youngstown State, who had lost to No. 3-seed and eventual champions Cleveland State the previous day.
Butler swept doubles play in convincing fashion to start the match. The Bulldogs won the No. 1 and No. 2 matches, making the third inconsequential.
Herron and senior David Dolins won the No. 1 match, 8-5. Bayliss and Theodor won the No. 2 match, 8-3.
Bayliss returned to his old form, picking up a win against junior Tariq Ismail, who had to withdraw from competition during the match.
Two other Butler seniors capped their collegiate careers with 2-0 records in the conference tournament—Herron won 6-2, 6-4, and Theodor won with similar ease, 6-2, 6-2.
Ervin also won in convincing fashion, winning the No. 3 singles match, 6-3, 6-1.
Throughout the season, Butler’s Achilles’ heel had been its inconsistent play during matches and its inability to stay healthy.
Ultimately, this caused their early departure from the conference tournament.
Despite a disappointing finish to the season, Bayliss ends his career as the 2011 Horizon League Player of the Year.
“It’s gratifying,” Bayliss said. “I wasn’t really recruited by any Division I schools except Butler so I wasn’t sure if I would even be able to compete at this level.”
Bayliss ended the season winning nine of his last 10 singles matches. He beat every conference opponent he faced during the regular season.
Looking ahead to next season, the team returns just three players from this year’s roster of nine—Ervin, junior Stephen McLoughlin and freshman Brad DiCarlo.
“They’ve been through a lot of adversity this year,” Bayliss said of the three who will be returning next season. “They’ll know how to lead the talented group of freshmen coming in. I’m excited to see what happens.”