COLLEGE STATION, Texas - Under the Texas sun, revenge for a loss earlier in the season was obtained as the 20th-ranked and No. 3 seed Mississippi State Bulldogs (19-6) defeated the 17th-ranked and No. 6 seed Florida Gators (14-8) 4-3 in the quarterfinals of the 2015 SEC Championship Friday.
With the win, State advances to play sixth-ranked and second-seeded tournament host Texas A&M on Saturday. First serve is scheduled for Noon CT at A&M's Mitchell Tennis Center.
"That was a great performance and a great win for our guys out there today," MSU coach Matt Roberts said. "We struggled in doubles, but these guys, as they have all year, answered the challenge and came back strong. They brought a lot of energy and emotion and overcame a tough Florida team."
The Bulldogs return to the semifinals for the first time since 2012, when MSU defeated Tennessee to move on to the semifinals against Georgia in Starkville. The last time MSU defeated Florida in the SEC Championship was the 1996 quarterfinals, when State went on to claim the tournament championship.
With Friday's win, the Bulldogs also moved into a tie for seventh for most wins in program history with 19, which ties State's total from last year.
MSU dropped the doubles point to the Gators Friday, but thanks to wins from Florian Lakat, Rishab Agarwal, Tassilo Schmid and Julian Cash, the Bulldogs rebounded to take the win. The Gators jumped ahead 2-0 behind a win on court two, but could not fend off the big MSU rally.
The Gators would grab the momentum early, taking wins on courts one and two doubles to grab a 1-0 lead. UF's No. 50 team of Diego Hidalgo and Gordon Watson struck first, defeating MSU's Mate Cutura and Tassilo Schmid 6-2 on court two. Florida would not let up, clinching the match's opening point with a 6-3 win from the 51st-ranked team of Maxx Lipman and Elliott Orkin against State's No. 7 tandem of Julian Cash and Florian Lakat at the top spot.
Play on court three was suspended with UF's team of Chase Perez-Blanco and Joshua Wardell leading the Bulldog duo of Juan Cruz Estevarena and Robin Haden 5-2 at No. 3.
MSU would quickly squash UF's momentum once singles began, taking five first sets. The bookends of State's lineup would come up with clutch first-set tiebreaker victories, as Lakat took his 7-6(3) on one and Cash took his 7-6(5) on six.
Despite those early leads for MSU, the Gators would land the first punch in singles behind No. 116 Orkin's 7-6(4), 6-0 win on court two against MSU's Estevarena for a 2-0 lead. However, State would respond with wins at Nos. 1 and 6, starting with a 7-6(3), 6-1 victory from No. 76 Lakat against UF's No. 53 Hidalgo at the top spot. Cash would follow suit with a 7-6(5), 6-2 win on court six to tie things up at 2-2.
State would gain its first lead of the day at 3-2 thanks to the clutch play of the senior Schmid. Down several set points at 5-4 in the second set, Schmid would fight back to a 6-5 lead and then come back from down 40-0 to break UF's Lipman and eventually capture a 6-4, 7-5 win.
Florida would tie things again at 3-3 behind a 3-6, 6-3, 6-3 victory from No. 120 Watson against MSU's No. 118 Cutura on court three.
All eyes would then shift to court four, where the Bulldogs' Agarwal would keep his tear through the SEC going against UF's Perez-Blanco. After being pushed to a third set, Agarwal would go up 5-1 and a double break and eventually pull out a 6-3, 4-6, 6-2 win to clinch the match. The win was Agarwal's 11th straight, moving him to 24-6 this year and 18-3 this spring.
"Really proud of Florian, Tassilo, Julian and Rishab. They didn't let the fact that we were down 1-0 put pressure on themselves," Roberts said. "It's mindsets like that which have been key to us all year. They brought it with every point and helped us move on to Saturday."