ATHENS, Ga. – He's probably not feeling so hot this morning, but Gavin Sontag hit the sack late Saturday night in a merry mood.
The senior overcame a semifractured hip and three months of rust to provide the clinching win in Illinois' 4-1 NCAA tournament rout of Arizona State on Saturday night.
Now someone go get him some ibuprofen, please.
"He's going to be feeling it (today), but regardless of what happens from now on, he gets to go out a winner," Illinois coach Craig Tiley said. "It's a fairy-tale story."
Sontag's first win since February sent the third-seeded Illini (28-3) to the Elite Eight for the first time in school history.
They'll meet up with Mississippi at 4 p.m. today with a trip to the Final Four on the line. The Illini nipped the fifth-seeded Bulldogs 4-3 at February's National Indoor Championships.
Tiley's not sure if Sontag, the school's all-time winningest player, will feel up to playing today. Sontag didn't decide to give it a go against the 14th-seeded Sun Devils until Saturday morning's practice after hearing from doctors there was a 25 percent chance he could refracture the hip that spoiled his senior season.
"This is what I took all the ice baths and rode the stationary bikes for," said Sontag, who won in two sets. "Hopefully, I'll do it four times."
The Illini are confident they can win it all, with or without their only All-American. Their road to the championship became a little smoother Saturday afternoon, when Baylor surprised four-time defending champ Stanford 4-2.
"We're counting down," junior Cary Franklin said. "We've won three. Three more to go."
The Illini started Saturday right, picking up the doubles point for the 21st consecutive match. Franklin and Oliver Freelove knocked off the nation's 16th-ranked team 8-6, and Jakub Teply and Matt Snyder teamed up for an 8-3 win.
Franklin was the first off the court in singles, winning 7-5, 6-2 at the No. 2 spot and giving Illinois a nice cushion.
"I played great," said Franklin, an Atlanta native who had a bleacher full of supporters. "I think I took a little pressure off the guys, putting us up 2-0 pretty fast. Everybody felt good about things when I walked off the court."
Jeff Laski made it 3-0, upsetting the 86th-ranked singles player in two sets. Tiley called it his best match in two months.
"I played a ton better than I have been," Laski said. "This atmosphere just makes everything so enjoyable."
Freelove fell at No. 1 after serving for the match, leaving it up to Sontag to finish business.
"For him to come back and play the way he did ... I get emotional just thinking about it," Tiley said.