Former MB standout Cox lifts No. 25 Gamecocks past LSU

Former Myrtle Beach High standout Chip Cox won his singles match in straight sets to help No. 25 South Carolina stretch its win streak to four with a commanding 4-1 win over No. 33 LSU on Sunday afternoon at Carolina Tennis Center.

The Gamecocks (15-7, 5-3 SEC) dropped a hotly contested doubles point, but for the second match in a row, asserted themselves early in singles and controlled the matches to earn their fifth league win of the season, the most since the 2006 team finished 6-5.

“There is definitely momentum around the team, but more importantly there is a belief and a trust of what it takes to win as a college team,” South Carolina head coach Josh Goffi said. “The last weeks the team has really honed in and understood that.”

Doubles was going the Tigers’ way early, but the Gamecocks fought down to the wire before LSU took the match’s first point. The match at the top of the order went to a tiebreak and both the other two were decided by a 9-7 score.

Trailing 1-0, South Carolina established leads in three matches early as Tsvetan Mihov, Thaigo Pinheiro and Chip Cox each led 5-2 to kick things off. Kyle Koch and Harry Menzies followed in their teammates’ footsteps, each scoring a service break to establish 5-3 leads in the Nos. 5 and 6 matches. Mihov was the first to close out his first set, 6-2 over No. 83 Chris Simpson at the top of the order.

On Court 3, though, Pinheiro was under pressure from Olivier Borsos, who stretched the Gamecock sophomore into a long service game, eventually coming out on top to get back on serve a 5-4. Cox and Menzies stayed the course, though, winning their first sets 6-3. Koch was serving for his set against Tam Trinh, but trailed Love-40 before booming serves put him back in control to win the set 6-3.

Pinheiro and Andrew Adams, who had teamed for the lone doubles win for the Gamecocks early, both saw their sets go to a tiebreak, which the Tigers captured to breathe life into their comeback hopes. Mihov was relentless in his dismantling of Simpson in the No. 1 spot, though, winning the second set 6-2 before Adams even closed his tiebreak. Looking for his trademark comeback after dropping the first set, Pinheiro had opened a two-break lead on Borsos as well.

Just after Mihov’s win leveled the team score at 1-1, Menzies and Cox each went up a break in their matches. Consolidating a break to go up 5-2, Menzies kept the pressure on Boris Arias in the No. 6 match. The senior came out of the changeover and took a 15-40 lead on the Tigers’ freshman, who was ranked as high as No. 64 in juniors last season. Arias fought off one match point when Menzies’s backhand found the net. On the next point, however, Menzies lured Arias to the net and drove a cross-court passing shot by him to secure the 6-2 set and his second-straight win and third in the last four matches.

Cox was close on Menzies’ heels after breaking Bowtell to take at 4-3 lead. A quick hold from Cox left Bowtell to serve for the match. The Gamecock junior’s dominating return game was on full display, including on match point when a crisp baseline hit left Bowtell with a tough approach shot, which he dumped in the net to drop the 6-3 set and bring the Gamecocks within a point of the team victory.

“It’s been impressive to see the way Chip and Harry have bounced back from their losing streaks in the Nos. 4 and 6 spots,” South Carolina assistant coach Matt Lucas said. “They’ve both gotten back to competing the way they did early in the season. You can see in their pattern of play that they really trust their games, and they’ve each got three SEC wins now, playing their best tennis at this point in the season.”

During all the excitement on the courts opposite his, Koch was steadily attacking Tam Trinh and was up a break at 5-4 on Court 5. The Tigers’ freshman refused to let Koch serve out the match, though. Just before Pinheiro leveled his match at a set each with a 6-1 second set, Trinh broke Koch’s serve to get to 5-5 and eventually send the set to a tiebreak. The two traded points throughout with neither able to fully wrest control. After a huge forehand from Koch forced a miscue, Trinh staved off match point with a great return to get to 6-5. Even at 6-6, Koch delivered a pinpoint passing shot to set up another match point, and he punctuated it with a clear service winner to give the Gamecocks the victory.

South Carolina will take its win streak back on the road next week, traveling to No. 13 Mississippi State and No. 10 Ole Miss for Friday and Sunday matches, respectively. The Gamecocks will be looking for their school-record fifth-straight SEC victory against the Bulldogs and possibly to tie the school record with seven SEC wins in a season.

Photo courtesy of USC Athletics

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