KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- With their backs against the wall and a point away from defeat, the 18th-ranked Mississippi State Bulldogs (20-7) rallied from a 3-0 deficit to upset 11th-ranked and top-seeded Texas A&M (20-5) as MSU clinched its first appearance in the Southeastern Conference title match since 1996.
The 4-3 win sends MSU to Sunday's SEC finals, where the Bulldogs will face No. 13 Georgia (16-7) for the title at 12 p.m. CT. UTsports.com will provide live stats and video.
"This is what college tennis is all about," head coach Matt Roberts said. "We knew it would be a battle with Texas A&M. They're a great team and fight for every point. I'm so proud of the heart and fight we displayed today, but I'm not surprised one bit because that's what we've done all season long."
The victory improved MSU's record to 20-7 overall on the season as the Bulldogs downed the Aggies for the second time this year. The trip to the SEC finals is MSU's fifth as a program, with the Bulldogs claiming the conference tournament title their last trip in 1996 over Georgia.
Doubles action began with the Aggies jumping ahead quickly to gain an advantage on courts one and two. TAMU would take a pair of 6-2 decisions over MSU as Mate Cutura and Vaughn Hunter fell to Jordi Arconada and Hady Habib, before No. 9 Niclas Braun and Trevor Foshey were ousted by No. 20 Arthur Rinderknech and AJ Catanzariti.
Nuno Borges and Strahinja Rakic's match against Aleksandre Bakshi and Max Lunkin was suspended with the Bulldog tandem leading, 5-3.
"Even though we lost the doubles point, we still felt pretty good going into singles," Roberts said. "We were energetic and supporting each other the entire time. We work on that aspect of our game a lot and competing as one unit. Today was a great example of how you can turn around a match with great singles play."
The Bulldogs bounced back in singles play as State took four of the first six sets to bounce back with a surge of momentum. TAMU would respond after No. 6 Rinderknech edged out No. 3 Borges to give the Aggies a 2-0 lead. Soon after, TAMU took a 6-4, 6-4 decision from Braun to extend its lead to a daunting 3-0 advantage.
Just as they have all season long, the Bulldogs showed fight to the end however as the Maroon & White started its rally. First up it would be Cutura who earned a tough, 6-4, 6-4, upset over No. 47 Arconada to give MSU its first point of the day. The rally would continue on court three as Rakic wrestled away back-to-back tiebreakers to defeat Catanzariti. With the lead trimmed to 3-2, MSU's fate would be in the hands of a pair of freshmen.
"We don't view Giovanni and Simon as freshmen, we view them as two guys fighting for their teammates," Roberts said. "They've been training and preparing for this moment and we knew they would step up to the challenge."
Inserted into the lineup for singles action, Baudry took his match to a deciding third set as the freshman outlasted Max Lunkin, 6-1, 6-7(5), 6-2 to tie the match up at 3-3. The rally was in full effect following the win on court six as the two teams scurried to court five for the deciding match of the day between MSU's Giovanni Oradini and TAMU's Hady Habib.
"All I was thinking was that I had to get this done for my team," Oradini said. "I felt really confident because everyone was supporting me and I knew my brothers were there for me. I just played all out every point and left everything I had on the court."
After dropping a tough second set tiebreaker, Oradini had to fight back against Habib's surge as the freshman used every ounce of strength he had left to take the third and final set, 6-4.
"The team gave me a lot of adrenaline for that final set," Oradini said following his win. "They were giving me all their energy and helped me get that last push. I wanted to overcome my limits, so I wasn't worried how tired I was in the moment. I told myself that I would have time to rest after the match, so I blocked the pain out."
The clincher for Oradini was his second of the weekend, as the Bulldog now owns five clinches this season. The lefty has won his last three matches (all three coming at the SEC Tournament) to improve his overall record to 14-6 on the year.
"Our guys are in great shape by the way we train and work hard every day," Roberts said of his team's physique. "Cramping or getting tired is never a thought for our guys, because we've prepared for these kind of moments all season long and we're peaking at the right time."
Up Next There will be a battle of the Bulldogs on Sunday at 12 p.m. CT for the SEC Tournament title, as MSU seeks its first conference tourney crown since 1996.