MISSOULA — Ashley Mackey collapsed on the court, letting out all the pressure and emotions that were building over the past several hours.
The senior’s teammates ran over to her, jumping, screaming, crying. Mackey had just won a four-hour marathon match at No. 5 singles, giving the Montana Grizzlies a 4-3 win over Sacramento State, becoming the first Big Sky Conference team to defeat the Hornets since 2002.
“It was such a blur,” Mackey said. “I usually yell ‘Come on,’ or something after a match, but I didn’t have anything left. My teammates were screaming for me — everyone had tears of joy. I knew everything came down to my match, and I’m so glad I was able to pull it out for my team.”
The duel was tied at three points apiece after Maddy Murray’s 6-3, 6-1 win at No. 6 singles. To win or to lose — it all came down to Mackey’s match, who was leading Deimante Bulatovaite in the second set after a 6-3 first set win. Bulatovaite battled back, winning the second set 7-5.
As her teammates cheered until their voices became hoarse, the Los Angeles, Calif. native found herself behind 5-3 in the final set, and then down 6-5 in the first to seven tiebreaker. Both times she gutted out a comeback, and eventually earned the unforgettable victory.
“It took so much emotional energy,” Murray said. “I feel like we were all playing Ashley’s match with her. Our voices are gone, we all have headaches, but we are so happy. I cannot even begin to say what it means.”
The Hornets (9-13, 7-1 BSC) began the morning sweeping the doubles point, winning 8-5 at Nos. 2 and 3 doubles, and 8-3 at No. 3. Haley Driver earned UM its first point of the day, defeating Alina Soltanici in straight sets at No. 1 singles. Sacramento State then extended its lead to 3-1 after Sophie Lohscheidt’s win at No. 3 singles.
With her team down 3-1, Laurence Pelchat gave an intense, clutch performance nearly as awe-inspiring as Mackey’s win.
Pelchat lost the first set to Sac. State’s Olivia Boija 4-6, but dominated in the second set 6-1. In the final set, the junior was behind 3-5, a few fierce forehands away from the Hornets clinching a victory.
“I knew if I lost the match — that was it,” Pelchat said. “I wanted it so bad. I kept looking over, and Ashley and Maddy were doing great. My teammates came over and pumped me up and I just had to dig a little deeper and do something to break her down. I kept being patient, and tried to break down her forehand.”
Pelchat’s win brought the duel score to 3-2, and gave Mackey and Murray a shot to win the match for UM. Murray tied the match with a straight set win nearly two hours before Mackey’s epic match concluded.
“It’s a special feeling,” Head coach Steve Ascher said. “Especially in Ashley’s match, the team did such a great job of binding together and giving Ashley energy. They were there, supercharging her effort, and I think that was a deciding factor.”
Snapping a 12-year-long, 112 match win streak is something the players will always remember, Ascher says, and it’s something that carries a special meaning for him as well. What does it mean, exactly? The sixth-year head coach — at a loss for words — laughed and smiled, shaking his head.
“They’ve just been blowing people out in the conference,” Ascher said. “It’s historic. You don’t get too many moments like that, where the table is set. You get to play a team that has a win streak like that, that’s fortunate in its own right, but to have it end like this is just fantastic.”
Montana (12-7, 7-0 BSC) moves into first place in the Big Sky, and hosts third place Northern Colorado (8-7, 6-2 BSC) Saturday at 9 a.m.
— Montana Sports Information