SAN DIEGO, Calif. -- With its back to the proverbial wall, the Saint Mary's men's tennis team showed it wasn't quite ready for the 2013 season to end.
The No. 6 seed Gaels used a clutch rally at No. 1 to claim the doubles point, then Samuel Bloore finished things off with a win at No. 5 singles as Saint Mary's defeated No. 7 Portland 4-1 in the first round of the West Coast Conference Championships at the Barnes Tennis Center in San Diego.
"I thought we had excellent focus and excellent concentration," Saint Mary's coach Michael Wayman said. "Once they got through the pre-match jitters in doubles, they really got started."
With the win, Saint Mary's advances to Thursday's quarterfinal round. The Gaels will take on No. 3 San Diego at 12:30 p.m.
Saint Mary's was first to strike on Wednesday. Extremely strong play at No. 3 doubles by Seif El Sherbini and Thomas Hunt gave the Gaels the 8-4 win and a leg up with two matches still on court.
Portland gained the early advantage at No. 1 doubles, but that would not deter the Gaels' top pair of Joakim Norstrom and Jesse Kiuru. Down a break early to Ratan Gill and Alex Ferrero, Norstrom and Kiuru rallied to even the match at 5.
It didn't take long for the Scandinavian duo to take command. A forehand volley by Kiuru would prove the winning point, and an 8-6 win gave Saint Mary's the doubles point and a 1-0 lead.
"Jo and Jesse coming back from a break down on the first court was huge," Wayman said. "I thought Seif and Alex played a really good match. It was good to have that under our belt."
Portland would even the score at 1 all with a win at No. 4 singles. Even without winning the match though, El Sherbini played a valuable role. He dropped the first set 0-6, but continued to fight in the second, extending the match and the momentum he helped grow in doubles.
Shortly thereafter, Saint Mary's took control. Hunt scored a dominant 6-1, 6-3 win at No. 6, and Tuomas Manner followed with a 6-1, 6-2 victory at No. 3.
With Portland up a set at No. 1 and Norstrom even at one set apiece at No. 2, Bloore ended the intrigue quickly.
The sophomore from New South Wales, Australia won his first set 6-3 against Jackson Martin at No. 5, then went up a break late in the second. Facing match point, Bloore made a tremendous stab to return Martin's shot, and the ball never made it back to Bloore, landing in the net to give the Aussie a 6-3 win.
"He showed a lot of resolve to finish off the match," Wayman said. "He stuck to his game plan, and I think that's why I would say the focus and the energy in the match was very positive."
The Gaels now face a new challenge on Thursday, with a Toreros squad that won 6-1 when they met last week in San Diego.
"They know what to expect. I think there's a far greater impetus to try to be aggressive against this team," Wayman said. "I would be looking for us to be as proactive as possible in terms of attitudes, physical atttributes and technically. I'm looking forward to the match."