BERKELEY, Calif. -- At several points in Friday's NCAA Tournament first round match against Auburn, the Saint Mary's women's tennis team could have packed up its belongings and just succumbed to a solid group of Tigers.
That's not how the Gaels have operated all year, and Friday's match was no different. Trailing early after dropping the doubles point, Saint Mary's fought valiantly to the very end but ended up dropping a 4-2 decision to the Tigers at Cal's Hellman Tennis Complex.
No. 40-ranked Saint Mary's finishes a very successful season with an overall record of 13-10. No. 25 Auburn advances to Saturday's second round with an 18-8 mark.
"I'm extremely proud of my team," Saint Mary's coach Lisa Alipaz said. "We had our opportunities against Auburn, but we fought all day and never gave up. We had a great season and the girls should definitely be proud of what they accomplished."
Action started under cloudy skies on Friday, with a long and intense doubles session breaking in favor of the Tigers.
Auburn took the early advantage with a win on court 3, but getting the point would take far longer due to tense matches on courts 1 and 2.
It took a break of serve at No. 1 for Auburn to get the day's first point. After Saint Mary's escaped a match point earlier in the game, a lob gave the Tigers the 9-7 victory and put Auburn up 1-0 heading into singles.
That lead grew to 2-0 when the Tigers got a straight sets victory on court 3.
It wasn't long before Saint Mary's got on the board, with senior team captain Catherine Isip leading the way. The Anaheim, Calif. native won her final match as a Gael, closing a tremendous collegiate career with a 6-2, 6-3 win over Michala Kucharova on court 2.
The remaining four matches would all stretch to three sets, and with the fog long replaced by sun, the Gaels and Tigers continued battling well into the afternoon.
Auburn pushed its lead to 3-1 when Pleun Burgmans, ranked No. 22 in the country, managed to outlast No. 23 Jenny Jullien 4-6, 6-4, 6-2 in a matchup of two of the nation's premier players.
Saint Mary's wasn't finished. Audrey Leitz kept hope alive at the other end of the complex, rallying from a set down to defeat Plamena Kurteva 2-6, 6-2, 6-2 at No. 6.
That left just courts 4 and 5 to decide the match, with fans moving from the grandstand to behind the courts to watch the action.
Auburn would get the point it needed at No. 4, when Jen Pfeifler rallied from a set down, winning the third set 6-3 to give the Tigers the victory.
Although Saint Mary's team season is now over, Jullien will play on. She will head to Urbana, Ill. later this month to take part in the NCAA Singles Tournament. The West Coast Conference Player of the Year, Jullien earned the conference's automatic bid to the tournament, which starts May 22.