The Official Website of the Southeastern Conference
The Official Website of the Southeastern Conference

Gators top Bulldogs for spot in semifinals

2419 days ago
Florida Athletics
Photo: Florida Athletics

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- For the last two seasons, it seems when Florida has needed a clinching victory in the Southeastern Conference Tournament, it looked to Spencer Liang. The Gator senior was again called upon to provide heroics during Friday's battle against No. 20 Mississippi State and Liang came through as she helped Florida earn a tough 4-2 victory in the quarterfinal round held at the Currey Tennis Center on the campus of Vanderbilt University.

Liang wasn't in Florida's original singles lineup on Friday, but after doubles play, UF head coach Roland Thornqvist made a change and inserted Liang at the number six position where she polished off the dual match with a 7-5, 6-1 victory in just under two hours.

Last year, Liang provided the clinching dual match singles wins in the quarterfinals and semifinals that sent Florida to the final where it claimed its 20th tournament title.

Liang's first set against Jennifer Brown was back and forth, as both competitors would follow a break with a break and a service hold with a hold. The Gator senior seemed to have the early upper hand when she broke in the ninth game and went to serve with the 5-4 lead. Brown broke back, but couldn't hold and Liang finally ended the trend by serving out - having to fight off one break point - for the first frame, 7-5.

Liang then raced out to a 4-0 lead in the second en route to the straight-set win.

Junior Anna Danilina was the first off the singles courts, posting her fourth double-bagel victory of the season that gave the Gators a 2-0 lead just 45 minutes into the start of play.

Junior Brooke Austin was the next to finish and her match played out nearly identically to Liang's in that neither competition could pull away in the first set. Austin eared a break for a 5-4 lead, but Anastasia Rentouli broke right back to even the score. The Gator, however, took Rentouli's serve and then closed out the frame by holding en route to a 7-5, 6-1 win and Florida assumed a 3-0 lead in the team scoring.

Mississippi State, which won the first set on courts one, two and three, followed Austin's win with victories on courts one and three and inched closer, 3-2.

The Bulldogs fighting back and could feel the momentum after taking a 3-0 lead in the second set behind a pair of breaks on court two after winning the first, 7-5. Josie Kuhlman finally found her groove and won three straight games to even the set at 3-all, but was going to need to win it to force a third set. Kuhlman wasn't able to continue her run and went down 4-3.

That's when Liang provided the finishing touches on the Gator win.

Thornqvist felt Florida played its best tennis on the doubles court on Friday that resulted in the all-important doubles point.

Florida will face No. 10-seeded and 12th-ranked Auburn in the semifinals on Saturday at 11 a.m. ET/10 a.m. CT. The Tigers stunned No. 2-seed and fourth-ranked Georgia, 4-1, in their quarterfinal match on Friday.