Freshman Nate Bonetto has found himself in a number of big moments early in his collegiate career. Perhaps none were bigger than Sunday, as he found himself playing in the match that would eventually decide a hotly contested battle.
The team dual was stalemated at three and Bonetto was serving with a 6-5 lead in the second set. He opened with an ace before finishing off his opponent and securing a victory for the Gators.
No. 5 Florida (9-2) improved to 2-0 in conference play following a 4-3 win over No. 9 Kentucky. After cruising past No. 6 South Carolina Friday, it took a lot more work this time around. The Gators picked up their fourth-straight win, all coming against top-10 opponents.
After its previous shutout win, Florida carried the momentum into a dominant performance in doubles.
Bonetto and senior Duarte Vale rolled over Kentucky’s pairing of Francois Musitelli and Yasha Zeme for their second consecutive doubles victory together. Senior Sam Riffice and sophomore Ben Shelton were up 5-4 in their match, but went unfinished after a 6-3 triumph from senior Andy Andrade and graduate student Mattias Siimar clinched the doubles point for UF.
After going up 1-0 with relative ease, the Gators were then woken up by a strong Kentucky singles lineup featuring multiple highly ranked players. Riffice did put up a strong showing in his match, posting a 6-2, 6-2 win over fifth-year Millon Hurrion.
However, with a two-point deficit, Kentucky was able to quickly even the score.
Vale came up just short in three sets against No. 9 Gabriel Diallo after trying to stage a comeback following a 6-1 loss in the first set. Senior Andy Andrade also fought hard against Musitelli, but dropped a tiebreaker in the second set as the score of the match became 2-2.
Shelton outlasted preseason No. 1 Liam Draxl in three sets, as he picked up his most impressive win of the year and appears to be finding his groove after a slower start to the year.
Florida just needed one point from its remaining two players in order to pick up the match victory, but senior Josh Goodger had a difficult time after dropping a first-set tiebreaker to No. 90 Joshua Lapadat, eventually losing in two sets.
It all came down to Bonetto, who was locked in a duel with sophomore JJ Mercer. The two traded kill shots before Bonetto emerged victorious in a first-set tiebreaker.
The second set was no easier for the Bend, Oregon, native. Bonetto did just enough to put himself in a position to eventually put the Wildcats away for good.
After a couple of disappointing losses in non-conference play, Florida has snapped into form as it begins to face SEC opponents. The next challenge arrives Friday, a rematch against No. 22 Georgia.
The Gators had the opportunity to face the Bulldogs earlier this season, as they beat their rivals in the final consolation match of the ITA Indoor National Championship. This time, however, both teams' SEC records will be on the line. The match takes place at 3 p.m. in Athens, Georgia.
Contact Joshua Morgan at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @JoshuaMorgan37