BOZEMAN, Mont. – Playing in his first conference championship, freshman Dominic Bermudez rallied for a three-set win in the deciding match at No. 5 singles to lift NAU past Montana, 4-3, in the Big Sky championship semifinals on Saturday afternoon in Bozeman, Mont. The Lumberjacks advanced to their second-consecutive Big Sky championship final, where they will meet top-seeded Sacramento State in a rematch of last year's title match on Sunday at 9 a.m. Arizona time.
"When I was up in the second set, I just kept thinking to myself that the team was depending on me and that I was going to make sure this wasn't our last match of the season," said Bermudez after his clinching victory. "It was great to clinch the match, but I was most excited about making my teammates happy and getting them into the final. I think we believe now that we can win; we've come along way this season and I think we just need to believe again tomorrow."
After Montana defeated NAU, 4-3, last Saturday in Missoula, the squads knew that their semifinal match would be another tightly contested battle. The Grizzlies would claim the first doubles match at No. 2, but NAU junior Ben Lantz and sophomore Patrick Schimmelbauer picked up an 8-5 win at No. 3 to leave the doubles point up to the No. 1 match. Bermudez and Lumberjack sophomore Hugo Ramadier faced Montana's Josh Smith and Carl Kuschke at the top doubles contest, with the NAU tandem holding on for an 8-6 win to give the Lumberjacks the critical doubles point.
Northern Arizona would double its lead to 2-0 after the first singles match, as NAU junior Robin Pezzutto eased his way to a 6-3, 6-4 win at No. 3. The Grizzlies would come back with three-set wins at No. 1 and 2, however, to even the team score at 2-2. Northern Arizona senior David Flodberg would rally for a 3-6, 7-6 (1), 6-4 victory at No. 4 to put NAU one point away from victory, but Montana would answer with a win at No. 6 to even the score.
The match would be decided at No. 5 between Bermudez and Montana sophomore Andrew Warren, and after Bermudez dropped the first set, Warren had a chance to serve for the match in the second set. Bermudez would break his serve and win the second set in a tiebreaker before dominating the third set to finish off a 3-6, 7-6 (1), 6-3 victory to send the Lumberjacks into the conference title match.
Sacramento State won the first semifinal on Saturday, 4-0, over the host Montana State Bobcats to advance to its fifth consecutive Big Sky final match. Last season in Sacramento, the Hornets defeated NAU, 4-0, to win their second straight Big Sky title. In their regular season meeting this season, the Hornets scored a 6-1 win over Northern Arizona in Sacramento on March 27. The last time the teams played at elevation, however, was a 6-1 NAU upset over the Hornets in Flagstaff in January 2010. Northern Arizona will be playing for its first Big Sky championship since 1997 and its first automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament in program history.