Gators ace way to SEC Tournament final

Spencer Newman secured the Gators first point while his teammate Billy Federhofer clinched the game winning point to send the fifth-seeded No. 17 Florida Gators to the SEC Tournament championship against the third-seeded No. 11 Kentucky Wildcats.

Dozens of colorful umbrellas filled the stands as 416 fans came out to watch the SEC semifinals between the Gators and the first-seeded No. 2 Tennessee Volunteers in the scorching heat at Linder Stadium at Ring Tennis Complex on Saturday at 2 p.m.

The matchup between Florida and Tennessee has history. They met in last year’s SEC tournament where the Vols won 4-0. The last time the Gators and the Vols met in Gainesville, last season, the Vols pulled through with a 4-3 victory.

Although Andrew Butz and Bob van Overbeek finished first winning their match against Matteo Fago and Edward Jones (8-1), the Gators came up short during doubles allowing Tennessee to claim the first point.

“It wasn’t like we did something wrong,” head coach Andy Jackson said.

He said it was a close doubles match, and the team didn’t feel too bad.

The loss didn’t bother the team or the fans too much. There was strong camaraderie on the court exhibited by high fives and shouts of “Let’s go Gators” from the stands. 

Florida answered during singles. Spencer Newman earned the first point for the Gators after he shut out Edward Jones in straight sets (6-4 and 6-2).

Bob van Overbeek placed the second point on the board for the Gators after beating Boris Conkic in straight sets (6-2 and 6-4).

Alexandre Lacroix (8) faced a familiar foe, John-Patrick Smith (11). The two played against each other in the SEC tournament last year and Smith beat Lacroix (6-2 and 6-1). Lacroix was able to beat Smith this year and earn the Gators another point.

With the score 3-1 Gators, Lacroix began shouting encouragement to his teammates.

Lacroix said he came out playing aggressively in the hard battle today and believes it was the best he played against Smith and all year.

He couldn’t stop praising teammate Federhofer who clinched the game-winning point for the Gators against Matteo Fago (76), making the final score 4-2.

“He’s coming at practice and working so hard, and I’m really proud of him and proud of the whole team,” Lacroix said. “We are really a team. We really like each other, and you can feel that on the court. I’m really proud of him. I know if he keeps working like that, he’s going to be a great player at Florida.”

Jackson said Federhofer’s match against Fago was the biggest win of his career.

“He has been the gold standard for Billy,” Jackson said.

Fago is the highest-ranked player Federhofer has defeated so far, and Fago made Federhofer fight for it.

“I’m really tired, but I’m really proud that my team just fought the whole time,” Federhofer said. “I’m glad I could come through for them today, but it took all of us. I was definitely nervous, but I saw that we had an opportunity to win. I know how hard all our guys fight and how they would fight, and I just tried to focus on tennis and my tactics and not the result.”

The team is excited to have the opportunity to win an SEC championship, Jackson said.

“It was a great win for us,” he said. “It was one that I feel like has been coming for a long time because of the amount work that the guys have been putting into things. We have come so close so many times, and they didn’t quit.”

He said this win has given himself, as the coach, some credibility.

“The coach knows how seasons work, where if you keep working good things will happen,” he said.

When progress and winning takes some time, players often get frustrated, Jackson said.

“It takes a lot of character and integrity to keep going,” he said. “I am really really happy for the guys.”

The Gators will face Kentucky at Linder Stadium at Ring Tennis Complex at noon on Sunday.

Jackson said the team is very excited to play another championship-caliber team.