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These Gamecocks are Elite: USC shuts out Southern Cal to advance in NCAAs

Not long after they finished within seconds of each other — and clinched their team a historic win — South Carolina tennis players Ingrid Martins and Mia Horvit struck a pose. And then another one. And then another one.

“One more,” Horvit said. “OK, one more,” Martins responded happily.

The duo took a series of selfies until they got the shot just right — their grinning faces in the foreground, the scoreboard in the background.

South Carolina 4, Southern Cal 0.

After two consecutive years of being denied in the Sweet 16 round of the NCAA tournament, the Gamecocks blanked the Trojans on Saturday to advance to the quarterfinals for the first time since 2009.

“It’s great,” said Carolina coach Kevin Epley. “This was a goal all year for our team, the last few years. We came up short last year against Georgia, we went with our heads hung low last year. So we came out this year and we said we wanted to do a lot better in tournament season.”

On April 21, South Carolina captured the SEC tournament. Three weeks later, the Gamecocks stand three wins from capturing the NCAA tournament.

No. 4 Carolina (23-3) next faces No. 5 Duke (26-3) on Friday at the USTA National Campus Collegiate Center in Orlando, Florida.

“The first time we’re dancing to the Elite Eight,” Horvit said, “it’s really exciting. Everyone’s thrilled. We’re super pumped up for the next match. I mean, it’s not over yet. We were definitely looking at this match as one of the biggest matches of the year, as we usually do, and it’s nice to get that revenge.”

Southern Cal (18-8) beat South Carolina on Jan. 21 in Australia. That match, however, failed to include Martins, who was out with an injury. The SEC player of the year had a huge impact on the rematch. The Martins-Horvit doubles team beat the Trojans’ top-ranked duo of Angela Kuliko and Rianna Valdes, 6-1. Martins then swept her singles match (6-1, 6-2) over Salma Ewing.

“We actually wanted to play them,” Epley said. “We wanted another shot at them with Ingrid in the lineup. And I felt we were playing a little bit better tennis today. They fought hard, but I think we were just a little too tough today.”

A key turn for the doubles point came when Carolina’s Megan Davies and Rachel Rohrabacher rallied from a 4-1 deficit for a 7-5 win.

Rohrabacher was the first to win her singles match. She then watched Martins and Horvit (6-4, 6-3) do the same. That trio — two seniors and a junior — was stung by defeat at this stage before. It made the breakthrough all that sweeter.

“It’s showing that all the hard work is paying off,” Horvit said. “We’re trusting our work and really seeing it. We’re pushing each other day in and day out. It just shows what we can accomplish together.”

Andrew Ramspacher has been covering college athletics since 2010, serving as The State’s USC men’s basketball beat writer since October 2017. His work has been recognized by the Associated Press Sports Editors, Virginia Press Association and West Virginia Press Association. At a program-listed 5-foot-10, he’s always been destined to write about the game. Not play it.
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