IRVINE, Calif. - Freshman Pablo Masjuan won a thrilling three-set match at No. 4 singles, with all three sets going to tiebreakers, to give third-seeded UC Santa Barbara a tense and breathtaking 4-3 win over No. 1 seeded Cal Poly in the Big West Tournament Championship match on Sunday afternoon at the Orange County Great Park. It was the record sixth consecutive league crown for the Gauchos (10-5).
With the match score tied a 3-3, Masjuan defeated the Mustangs' Joe Leather 6-7 (1), 7-6 (7) and 7-6 (3) to send his teammates into a frenzy and UCSB into its sixth consecutive NCAA Tournament.
"Pablo showed a lot of toughness today," said head coach Marty Davis. "For a freshman to have that weight on his shoulders and to win it the way he did is very special."
In addition to winning in the third set tiebreaker, Masjuan saved six match points in a second set tiebreaker that he ultimately won, 9-7.
The Gauchos got on the scoreboard first, claiming the doubles point. First off the court were Joseph Guillin and Kai Brady when they defeated Gary Vardanyan and Alex Slater, 6-4. Next off, at No. 1, were Stefano Tsorotiotis and Alejandro Vedri who beat Leather and Roman Shenkiryk, 6-3. The No. 3 team of Victor Krustev and Joseph Rotheram were up 5-4 when pulled off the court.
Cal Poly knotted the score at 1-1 when Fernando Fonseca swept Rotheram at No. 5 singles, 6-2, 6-0. Krustev put UCSB back in front with a 6-4, 6-3 win over Antoine Noel at No. 3. At No. 6 singles, Brady fell to Vardanyan, 6-2, 1-6, 6-3, making the score 2-2.
At No. 1 singles, Guillin replicated his win in Saturday's semifinal against UC Irvine, when he also dropped the first set only to win the next two. In his victory on Sunday, however, Guillin trailed 4-0 in the second set and was on the verge of defeat before he came back to top Slater, 2-6, 7-5, 6-3, pushing his team to a 3-2 advantage.
The Mustangs equalized the match in another nail-biter at No. 2 where Noah Berry outlasted Tsorotiotis, 7-6 (4), 6-7 (3), 6-4, setting the stage for Masjuan's heriocs at No. 4.
"This was one for the ages," Davis said of the match that lasted 3 hours and 35 minutes and saw the Gauchos lose the first set in five of six singles matches. "Cal Poly is tough and they really compete, so this is one we'll remember for a while."
UCSB has now won 14 straight conference tournament matches dating back to 2015 when it began its current streak of six consecutive championships. Going back to 2013, the Gauchos have won 18 of their last 19 tourney matches and seven of eight tournament titles. Their last loss came at the hands of Cal Poly, a 4-0 decision in the 2014 semifinals.
The Gauchos will learn of their NCAA Tournament fate on Monday afternoon when the bids are handed out.