NORFOLK, Virginia - Junior Kosta Blank rallied from behind to outlast Georgia State's Thomas Cook in three sets and lift 42nd-ranked UNCW past the Panthers, 4-3, in the semifinals of the 2012 Virginia 529 Colonial Athletic Association Men's Tennis Championships Saturday at Old Dominion's Folkes-Stevens Tennis Center.
Playing under sunny skies in warm conditions, the third-seeded Seahawks lost the doubles point before swiping four singles matches to reach the CAA finals for the third time in four years. UNCW battles top-seeded and 37th-ranked VCU Sunday at 10 a.m. for the league's NCAA berth.
The Seahawks improved to 17-5 overall with the key victory, while the 55th-ranked Panthers ended their season at 20-5.
"I was really pleased at how we responded after losing the doubles point," said Mait DuBois, UNCW's fifth-year skipper. "We haven't been in that position very often and we had four guys jump out to quick leads right off the bat in singles. That ended up being a big difference for us.
"It's easy to panic in that type of situation. We did a good job of keeping our composure and went about our business."
GSU got the upper hand early by coming from behind to win the doubles point. Blank and Cooprider, UNCW's First-Team All-CAA singles tandem and the 85thranked team by the ITA, opened up the scoring by breezing past Cook and Matias Hatem, 8-3, at No. 1 doubles before Victor Valente and Juan Pablo Gutierrez evened the score by downing Sam Williams and Michael Reilly, 8-3, at the No. 2 position. The Panthers then secured the doubles point when the No. 3 team Lucas Santana and Jose Ortize defeated Pedro Mol and Kaue Pereira, 8-3.
Trailing 1-0 out of the gate, the Seahawks regained the momentum by winning the first three singles matches off the court. Mol blasted Gutierrez, 6-0, 6-2, at No. 4 singles, 93rd-ranked Rafael Aita had no problem with Valente at No. 1, 6-2, 6-1, and Pereira held on to beat Ismael Lahlou, 6-2, 7-6, to give the Seahawks a 3-1 advantage.
GSU, however, won the next two singles matches at No. 2 and No., 6 to leave the match up to Blank, a third-year performer from Kfar Sava, Israel. Battling Cook at No. 3 singles in a matchup of two Second-Team All-CAA standouts, Blank dropped the first set until regrouping for a crucial 3-6, 6-2, 6-3, victory to vault the Seahawks into the finals once again.
"Kosta's been a real rock for us," added DuBois. "He dropped the first set and handled it very well. He broke early in the second set, stayed on serve and then broke early again in the third set. He did a great job of maintaining his composure. We know he's going to play hard every point."
It was UNCW's 11th trip to the semifinals and the second straight year the Seahawks have denied GSU's bid to reach the championship match. It sets up a rematch of last year's championship when UNCW nipped VCU, 4-3, for its second crown in three seasons.
"It's going to be another tight match," DuBois said of Sunday's final with the Rams. "We haven't seen them this year, but they have almost exactly the same team as last year. It's going to be about us taking care of ourselves and playing Seahawk tennis."