GAINESVILLE, Fla. - For the second day in a row, the No. 6 Mississippi State men's tennis team faced a 1-0 deficit.
For the second day in a row, the second-seeded Bulldogs (21-3) overcame that deficit en route to a thrilling 4-2 victory, this time over sixth-seeded and 22nd-ranked South Carolina in the semifinals of the 2019 SEC Championship at the University of Florida's Ring Tennis Complex.
The win advances State into Sunday's SEC Championship final, where the Bulldogs will meet fourth-seeded and 13th-ranked Tennessee at 1:00 p.m. CT. The match will be televised live on the SEC Network and WatchESPN. Live video and stats will also be available through the University of Florida. The Bulldogs will be looking to defend their 2018 title of the tournament, which they claimed last April in Tuscaloosa, Ala. The Volunteers moved into Sunday's final with a big 4-3 upset of top-seeded and third-ranked tourney host Florida in Saturday's second semifinal.
"Today was an awesome match by the guys," head coach Matt Roberts said. "Give credit to South Carolina. They played really well in doubles, won three sets and almost won a fourth in singles. The guys did an excellent job of enjoying competing together and embracing the tough moments today. I'm very happy with the guys, their resiliency and how they competed. We're excited to be back in the final, and we're ready to get going against a very good Tennessee team tomorrow."
For the second straight day as well, doubles came down to court 3 against South Carolina, this time in a tiebreaker. The Gamecocks (17-9) took an early advantage when Raphael Lambling and Daniel Rodrigues upset MSU's third-ranked Nuno Borges and Strahinja Rakic in a 6-3 decision on court 1. The Bulldogs bounced back moments later, when No. 20 Niclas Braun and Giovanni Oradini ousted Yancy Dennis and Paul Jubb 6-4 on court 2, setting up yet another winner-take-all on court 3.
There, South Carolina's Jake Beasley and Beau Pelletier led 6-5 with MSU's Trevor Foshey and Gregor Ramskogler needing to hold to stay alive. After getting down love-40, that's just what the Bulldog tandem did, saving four-straight match points to knot it up at 6-all and force a match tiebreaker. In the breaker, Foshey and Ramskogler took an early 2-0 lead, holding that lead until the Gamecock pair went up 6-4. State saved another match point, but USC then served it out to take the doubles point with a 7-6(5) win and take an early 1-0 lead into singles.
Both teams took three first sets to open singles play, with State taking a pair of straight-set decisions early in singles. Ultimately, it would be State's senior foursome that would post victories to lift MSU to the comeback triumph.
Foshey knotted things up at 1-all when he ousted USC's Thomas Brown 6-4, 6-2 on court 5 to record his eighth-straight win. A few minutes later, Braun gave the Bulldogs their first lead of the contest, defeating Gamecock Beau Pelletier 7-5, 6-1 on court 4 for his fourth win in a row. The remaining four courts would go to third sets.
On court 1, MSU's second-ranked Borges had to battle back to force a third set against USC's sixth-ranked Jubb. After holding to go up 4-3 in the second set, Borges won the next two games to force the final frame, capped off with a hold on a deciding point. The third frame was all-Borges, as the two-time reigning SEC Player of the Year broke Jubb's serve in the first game to go up 1-0. From there, he only dropped one game en route to a 4-6, 6-3, 6-1 victory to give State a 3-1 lead.
With the win - his 23rd-consecutive - Borges became MSU's all-time leader in overall wins (178) and singles victories (113), passing All-Americans Matthieu Ballay (1996-99) and Mark Jeffrey (1988-91), respectively, in those categories.
The Gamecocks cut the deficit to 3-2 when the 119th-ranked Rodrigues took a tight 6-1, 4-6, 7-5 decision against MSU's 61st-ranked Oradini on court 2, with Rakic in a third-set battle on court 3 and Florian Broska beginning a tiebreaker on court 6.
On court 3, Rakic led 4-3 at the time Oradini's match finished. He went on to break Lambling at 15-40 to go up 5-3, and then served it out to clinch the victory for MSU and punch the Bulldogs' ticket to the tournament final for the third consecutive year with a tough 7-5, 1-6, 6-3 victory over Lambling. It was the senior's fifth win in his last six decisions.
At the clinch, State's Broska led Dennis 4-3 in his third-set tiebreaker after forcing a third set with a 6-2 decision in set 2.
Next Up for MSU...
Mississippi State will battle fourth-seeded and 13th-ranked Tennessee in Sunday's SEC Championship match at 1:00 p.m. CT. The match will be televised live on the SEC Network and WatchESPN. Live video and stats will also be available through the University of Florida. The Bulldogs are making their third-straight appearance in the SEC Championship final after claiming the 2018 title.
The Volunteers boast a pair of ranked singles players in No. 28 Timo Stodder and No. 71 Adam Walton, who clinched UT's win against Florida on Saturday. In doubles, Stodder and Preston Touliatos form the nation's 10th-ranked duo.
In the Bulldogs and Vols' regular season meeting in Starkville (March 22), State took a very tight doubles point before seeing UT make a strong rally effort in singles. The match was decided at the No. 3 position where MSU senior Niclas Braun overcame a 4-2, third-set deficit to down Vol Scott Jones 4-6, 7-4, 6-4. MSU has taken the last five meetings with UT overall.
No. 6 Mississippi State  4, No. 22 South Carolina  2
April 20, 2019 Alfred A. Ring Tennis Complex - Gainesville, Florida
1. Raphael Lambling/Daniel Rodrigues (USC) def. #3 Nuno Borges/Strahinja Rakic (MSU) 6-3
2. #20 Niclas Braun/Giovanni Oradini (MSU) def. Yancy Dennis/Paul Jubb (USC) 6-4
3. Jake Beasley/Beau Pelletier (USC) def. Trevor Foshey/Gregor Ramskogler (MSU) 7-6(5) Order of finish: 1,2,3
1. #2 Nuno Borges (MSU) def. #6 Paul Jubb (USC) 4-6, 6-3, 6-1
2. #119 Daniel Rodrigues (USC) def. #61 Giovanni Oradini (MSU) 6-1, 4-6, 7-5
3. Strahinja Rakic (MSU) def. Raphael Lambling (USC) 7-5, 1-6, 6-3
4. Niclas Braun (MSU) def. Beau Pelletier (USC) 7-5, 6-1 5. Trevor Foshey (MSU) def. Thomas Brown (USC) 6-4, 6-2
6. Florian Broska (MSU) vs. Yancy Dennis (USC) 3-6, 6-2, 6-6 (4-3) (susp.) Order of finish: 5,4,1,2,3