STARKVILLE, Miss. - In the quarterfinals of the 2012 SEC Men's Tennis Championship Friday, the third-seeded and ninth-ranked Mississippi State men's tennis squad (19-5) downed a challenging No. 6 seed in the 16th-ranked Tennessee Volunteers (14-13) to advance to the semifinals on Saturday.
The Bulldogs are slated to face the second seed in No. 4 Georgia at 11 a.m. CT at the A.J. Pitts Tennis Centre Saturday morning. MSU is in its first SEC Tourney semifinal since 2006 and its eighth overall (since the dual match tournament format began in 1990). Friday's win was also State's third in a row over Tennessee.
What proved to be a marathon match through the heated hours of Friday afternoon, the ultimate match-clincher came in a three-set match on court 6.
MSU sophomore Zach White had a 5-3 lead in the first set when Tennessee's Taylor Patrick rallied to take three straight games and earn a 6-5 advantage. White would battle send the match to a 6-6 tiebreaker but Patrick was too strong as he took a 7-6(5) first set decision. In the second, Patrick kept his momentum to earn an early 2-0 lead but White would fight to find his game. Battling from behind, White rallied to earn 4-2 lead and ultimately take the second set 6-4. In the third, White jumped out to a 4-2 lead but Patrick would hold serve to close the gap at 4-3. White then held serve and was able to break and earn the third set, match and clinching point to send the Bulldogs to their second SEC Tourney semifinal appearance since 1998.
"I got off my game after taking the big lead in the first set," said White. "After that, I really focused on my court and playing for the team and crowd. We are a very determined team and I am excited we get to see another day in the tournament."
That win came after the Volunteers had forced the final three matches of the day to third sets with State holding a 3-1 lead.
Starting the day in doubles, the MSU duo of Louis Cant and Malte Stropp, ranked 44th in the country, were the first to finish as they downed Tennessee's Jarryd Chaplin and Edward Jones 8-3 on court 2.
The doubles clinching point came in the top spot where the 35th-ranked MSU tandem of George Coupland and Artem Ilyushin was battling the No. 10 pair of Mikelis Libietis and Hunter Reese. Coupland and Ilyushin took an early 4-2 lead but Tennessee was able to hold serve and break to even the match at 4-4. However, the Bulldogs would break right back and hold serve to keep a 6-4 advantage and serve out and 8-6 win.
MSU then took an early 3-0 lead in the match before Tennessee rallied back.
State's 44th-ranked Cant cashed in early for MSU as he downed UT's Jones 6-3, 6-0 in the No. 5 spot and extended the Bulldog lead to 2-0. A fellow senior in No. 55 Coupland would quickly follow on court 4 with a 6-4, 6-4 decision over Tennessee's Chaplin, giving State the 3-0 advantage.
Then the Vols began to turn things around as 32nd-ranked Libietis of Tennessee earned a 7-6(6), 6-2 upset victory in the top spot over No. 10 Ilyushin of MSU.
The Vols used that momentum to then rally on court 2, where No. 77 Stropp of MSU breezed through the first set with a 6-0 decision over UT's 80th-ranked Reese. However, Reese would answer as he rallied from down 5-3 and facing three match points to earn a 7-5 second set decision. Taking a 3-0 lead in the third, Reese never let up as he finished the match 0-6, 7-5, 6-2 and cut MSU's lead to 3-2.
That left White and James Chaudry on the court to get State's needed fourth point. In third sets, both players jumped out to early breaks in the third, with White ultimately posting the clincher. Chaudry held a 6-7(2), 6-2, 4-2 advantage over Brandon Fickey of Tennessee when play was suspended.
"This was a very tough match for us," head coach Per Nilsson said. "Tennessee is a really good team and they do not know how to quit. I credit our guys for fighting through and especially our crowd. Playing at home is a huge advantage for us and our crowd was amazing."
For tomorrow's semifinal matchup with Georgia, watch live stats at www.hailstate.com. Also, follow @SECTennis and @mstateMT on Twitter for match and tournament updates.
No. 9 Mississippi State 4, No. 16 Tennessee 2
4/20/12 - A.J. Pitts Tennis Centre - Starkville, Miss.
1) #35 George Coupland/Artem Ilyushin (MSU) def. #10 Mikelis Libietis/Hunter Reese (UT) 8-6
2) #44 Louis Cant/Malte Stropp (MSU) def. Jarryd Chaplin/Edward Jones (UT) 8-3
3) Peter Nagovnak/Bryan Swartz (UT) def. Zach White/Ethan Wilkinson (MSU) 5-4 (susp.)
1) #32 Libietis (UT) def. #10 Ilyushin (MSU) 7-6(6), 6-2
2) #80 Reese (UT) def. #77 Stropp (MSU) 0-6, 7-5, 6-2
3) James Chaudry (MSU) vs. Brandon Fickey (UT) 7-6(5), 2-6, 4-2 (susp.)
4) #55 Coupland (MSU) def. Chaplin (UT) 6-4, 6-4
5) #46 Cant (MSU) def. Jones (UT) 6-3, 6-0
6) White (MSU) def. Taylor Patrick (UT) 6-7(5), 6-4, 6-3
Order of finish... Doubles (2,1)... Singles (5,4,1,2,6)