Five straight NCAA Tournament appearances. Five straight first-round losses by scores of 4-0.
The UNLV women’s tennis team finally broke through Friday.
Kristina Nedeltcheva, ranked 45th nationally, beat Virginia Commonwealth’s Ana Bara 6-1, 1-6, 6-4 at No. 1 singles to snap a 3-all tie, and the Rebels snuck past the 25th-ranked Rams 4-3 in a first-round regional match of the NCAA Tournament in Chapel Hill, N.C.
The victory, the program’s first in postseason play in 12 years, moved the 36th-ranked Rebels into today’s second-round match against second-ranked and host North Carolina. The Tar Heels ousted Richmond, 4-0.
The best-of-7 format was tied at three wins apiece when attention turned to Nedeltcheva’s match with Bara, with each player having won a set. Nedeltcheva, a senior, bolted to a 4-0 lead in the deciding set, but then dropped the next four games before coming back to give UNLV the victory.
“I figured out that it was going to come down to my match, so I felt pressure,” said Nedeltcheva, who improved to 28-9 this season in collecting her 90th career singles win. “I lost my energy in the second set, but was able to refocus and take it point by point in the third.
“I knew I needed to do it for all of us, and it feels amazing to get the win.”
UNLV opened the competition by taking two of three doubles matches for one point, then added wins by Nives Pavlovic and Adrienn Hidvegi at No. 2 and No. 4 singles to set up Nedeltcheva’s three-set clinching victory.
The Rebels improved to 22-4 overall. The only other time UNLV advanced past the first round was in the program’s first NCAA appearance in 1998, when it downed Washington State in Las Vegas.
■ UNLV BASEBALL — At Wilson Stadium, Kyle Kretschmer went 3-for4 with a home run and drove in three runs as the Rebels withstood a late Utah rally to beat the Utes 12-11 in the first game of a three-game Mountain West Conference weekend series.
Brandon Bayardi had a two-run homer and Hunter Beaty, Jarred Frierson, Drew Beuerlein and Cash Thomas had two hits apiece as UNLV (27-21, 11-8 MWC) stormed to an 11-2 lead after four innings.
But the Utes rallied, pulling to within 12-11 with a five-run ninth. Rebels reliever Glen DeWeese came on with the tying run at second base and two out and got Devin Walker on a strikeout to end the game and record his second save.
■ UNLV SOFTBALL — At Fort Collins, Colo., Marissa Nichols homered and drove in four runs as the Rebels beat Colorado State 9-4 in a Mountain West Conference game.
Nicholls’ team-leading 12th homer helped make a winner out of relief pitcher Jessica O’Connor (12-4), who allowed five hits and one run in 4 2/3 innings.
Laura Briones and Alyssia De La Torre drove in two runs apiece for the Rebels (32-20, 9-5 MWC).
■ UNLV TRACK AND FIELD — At Albuquerque, N.M., Amanda Bingson won the hammer throw with a school record heave of 210 feet, 2 inches to highlight the Rebels’ first-day performance at the Mountain West Conference outdoor championships.
Bingson’s throw won the event by 15 feet. The sophomore became the first UNLV athlete to win a throwing event at a conference meet since 1989. She later finished sixth in the discus — an event she didn’t compete in all season — with a throw of 142-10.
Bailey Kuestermeyer placed third in the 10,000 meters with a time of 37 minutes, 56.17 seconds, as UNLV amassed 26 points for last place in a field of five schools.
Colorado State leads with 67 points.
■ CSN SOFTBALL — At Salt Lake City, the College of Southern Nevada’s season came to an end with a 5-4 loss to North Idaho College in a losers’ bracket game of the National Junior College Athletic Association Region 18 Tournament.
The Coyotes finished 34-22.