GAINESVILLE, Fla. - After dropping his first set, senior Nuno Borges needed to dig deep in No. 6 Mississippi State's SEC Championship final against 12th-ranked and fourth-seeded Tennessee.
The veteran did that, and more, as he battled back to win the final two sets and propel the second-seeded Bulldogs (22-3) past the Volunteers (20-7) for their second straight SEC Tournament title after claiming last year's crown in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. With the win, MSU men's tennis became the first program in school history to win back-to-back SEC tournaments. It was the third league tourney title for the program overall (1996, 2018, 2019).
Borges' performance on Sunday, and over the weekend, handed him SEC All-Tournament Team honors in addition to being named the 2019 SEC Tournament MVP. It marks the third year Borges has earned All-Tournament honors after doing so in 2016 and 2017. Fellow senior Niclas Braun also landed on the All-Tournament team after going undefeated (5-0) in both singles and doubles in the Bulldogs' title run.
"I'm just really proud of the guys and how they came together," head coach Matt Roberts said. "We've said all year long, it's about the root and not the fruit, and we stayed focused on that. We live in the moment, we try to get better every week and trust the process. Going into this week, we were really committed to the root. That's our culture, and it paid off today."
MSU, which received a double bye in the tournament as the No. 2 seed, defeated No. 36 Vanderbilt (4-2) Friday and No. 22 South Carolina (4-2) Saturday en route to Sunday's title bout.
After dropping the doubles point in those first two contests, the Bulldogs returned to form Sunday, taking convincing 6-2 decisions on courts 2 and 3 to clinch the point.
On court 2, MSU's 20th-ranked pair of Braun and Giovanni Oradini won their third straight match in a victory over UT's Pat Harper and Andrew Rogers to get State started. Up 3-2 with Tennessee serving on court 3, Trevor Foshey and Gregor Ramskogler broke the Volunteers' Scott Jones and Adam Walton to go up 4-2. From there, the Bulldog tandem was in control, holding to go up 5-2 and then clinching the point when Ramskogler fired an overhead smash to break the Vols at 30-40. The teams were tied 4-4 at No. 1 when play was suspended.
In singles, the Volunteers battled back to go up a break early on four courts in first sets, but State did an excellent job of bouncing back to secure four first sets overall.
UT's Rogers was first off the court - and eventually the Vols' only point of the day - taking a 6-3, 6-2 decision against MSU's Florian Broska on court 6 to knot up the score at 1-all. That tie would not last very long as, on the other end of the complex at court 5, Foshey was serving for the match up 5-3 against Martim Prata.
And serve for the match the senior did, registering his ninth-straight win in singles. Despite going down a break at 4-3 in the first set, Foshey broke back to make it 4-all and won the next two games to take the first frame. He then went on to take a hard-fought 6-3 decision in the second set to give the Bulldogs the lead for good at 2-1.
On court 3, State's Rakic went up a set to halt UT's Jones' 18-set streak entering Sunday, and was serving for his match up 5-4, but Jones broke the senior's serve to make it 5-all. The Serbian remained calm under pressure, breaking back at 30-40 to go up 6-5. There, Rakic held at 40-30 when Jones' forehand flew into the net to take a 6-3, 7-5 triumph. The senior's sixth win in seven decisions handed the Bulldogs a commanding 3-1 lead with Borges leading 5-3 in the third and Stodder serving on court 1.
The second-ranked Borges quickly took the first two points to go up love-30. Stodder, ranked 28th, took the next point to make it 15-30. A netted backhand by Stodder put Borges a point away from clinching the title for State at 15-40.
Then, a forehand shot by Stodder fell wide of the line, moving Borges - who extended his incredible winning streak to 24 matches - past the Tennessee All-American 2-6, 6-2, 6-3 and catapulting the Bulldogs into Mississippi State Athletics lore as the only program to earn back-to-back SEC Tournament titles. MSU is also the first team in league history to win two in a row since Texas A&M in 2014 and 2015.
At the clincher, Braun was up a break at 2-1 in the second set after taking a tight 7-6(3) decision in the first against the Vols' Luca Wiedenmann on court 4. On court 2, the 61st-ranked Oradini was locked in a tight battle with UT'S 71st-ranked Adam Walton, with Walton leading 5-4 in the second, trying to force a third.
State's 22 wins this season currently tie for fourth all-time by an MSU team, needing one to tie last season's 23-3 mark. With the win, the Bulldogs extended their current winning streak to 12 matches, and their streak against the Volunteers to six-straight in the series.
Next Up for MSU...
The Bulldogs will find out their next test at 5 p.m. CT on Monday, April 29, during the 2019 NCAA Team Championship selection show. MSU is expected to be selected as a host for the NCAA 1st and 2nd Rounds for the fourth time overall and the second year in a row. If the Bulldogs are chosen to host, those two rounds will be held at State's A.J. Pitts Tennis Centre May 3-4.
MSU men's tennis, which will make its 28th all-time appearance in the NCAA Championship this season - the 24th since the event adopted its current dual match format in 1977 - reached the NCAA quarterfinals in 2018 for the first time in 20 years.
Selections for the 2019 NCAA Singles and Doubles Championships will be announced Tuesday, April 30.