STARKVILLE, Miss. - Mississippi State's third-seeded and ninth-ranked men's tennis squad (19-6) dropped a tough 4-3 thriller against the No. 2 seed in fourth-ranked Georgia (22-2) in the semifinals of the SEC Championship on Saturday at MSU's A.J. Pitts Tennis Centre.
MSU's semifinal finish in the SEC Tourney was their first since 2006.
As doubles play began, Georgia jumped out to a quick and early lead on courts 2 and 3. In the No. 3 position was the MSU duo of Zach White and Ethan Wilkinson where they faced Georgia's Will Spencer and KU Singh. The UGA pair was the first to finish with a quick 8-1 decision.
In the No. 2 spot for State was the 44th-ranked pair of Louis Cant and Malte Stropp. Falling behind early, MSU was unable to rally as Georgia's duo of Ignacio Taboada and Nathan Pasha earned an 8-3 triumph and the doubles point for UGA.
Despite losing the doubles point, MSU would regain its composure and make an incredible push in singles, rallying to take four out of six first sets, setting up an exciting finish.
On court 6 for MSU was White where he was downed 6-0, 6-3 by Georgia's Hernus Pieters. After the quick point and 2-0 lead for UGA, the last five matches of the day would all go three sets and State took the first three for a 3-2 lead.
In the No. 4 position for MSU was the 55th-ranked Coupland facing No. 44 Taboada of Georgia. Taking a quick 6-3 first set, Coupland was unable to complete a two-set win as he fell 6-1 in the second. However, Coupland regained his momentum as he rallied to take a 6-3, 1-6, 6-3 decision to close the gap to 2-1 Georgia.
Quickly following was MSU's 46th-ranked Cant on court 5 where he was facing Georgia's Pasha. Falling 6-4 in the first, Cant battled to take the second in similar fashion in send the match a third. Keeping the momentum, Cant allowed only two games in the final set as he downed Pasha 4-6, 6-4, 6-2 and tied the match at 2-2.
Earning State's first lead of the day was junior James Chaudry on court 3. Facing the 29th-ranked Doumbia of Georgia, Chaudry battled to take the first set 6-4. However, Doumbia rallied to take a 6-2 decision in the second forcing a third set, but his efforts fell short as Chaudry was able to take the third set and match 6-4, 2-6, 6-2 and give the Bulldogs a 3-2 lead.
That left the final two points to be decided in the top two positions. Unfortunately for MSU, Georgia was able to fend off State's gallant efforts in third sets to claim the team win in dramatic fashion.
On court 2 for MSU was No. 77 Stropp where he was facing 24th-ranked Singh of Georgia. In a tight first set, Stropp battled to earn a 7-6(4) first set tiebreak win. However, Singh would storm back with a 6-3 decision in the second. Singh then fought off Stropp and took a 6-7(4), 6-3, 6-3 decision to even the match once again.
Just moments later, the match-clincher came at the No. 1 position where two top-15 foes in MSU's 10th-ranked Ilyushin and UGA's No. 11 Spencer were in a tight battle. In the first, Ilyushin took a quick 6-2 decision but Spencer would rally to split sets and take a 6-3 second set decision. As Spencer was able to break and hold serve to go up 2-0, Ilyushin fought to take three straight games from Spencer. However, that would be all Georgia would allow as Spencer then won four-straight games and took a 2-6, 6-3, 6-3 decision to clinch the match 4-3 for UGA.
State will now await word on the 2012 NCAA Championships, which begin May 11-13 with the first and second rounds. The Bulldogs expect to earn their 21st NCAA bid all-time and are in position to potentially be selected as one of the 16 hosts for first and second round competition. Selections will be announced the first week of May.
No. 4 Georgia 4, No. 9 Mississippi State 3
4/21/12 - A.J. Pitts Tennis Centre - Starkville, Miss.
1) Hernus Pieters/Sadio Doumbia (UGA) vs. #35 George Coupland/Artem Ilyushin (MSU) 6-5(susp.)
2) Ignacio Taboada/Nathan Pasha (UGA) def. #44 Louis Cant/Malte Stropp (MSU) 8-3
3) Will Spencer/KU Singh (UGA) def. Zach White/Ethan Wilkinson (MSU) 8-1
1) #11 Spencer (UGA) def. #10 Ilyushin (MSU) 2-6, 6-3, 6-3
2) #24 Singh (UGA) def. #77 Stropp (MSU0 6-7(4), 6-3, 6-3
3) James Chaudry (MSU) def. # 29 Doumbia (UGA) 6-4, 2-6, 6-2
4) #55 Coupland (MSU) def. #44 Taboada (UGA) 6-3, 1-6, 6-3
5) #46 Cant (MSU) def. Pasha (UGA) 4-6, 6-4, 6-2
6) Pieters (UGA) def. White (MSU) 6-0, 6-3
Order of finish... Doubles (3,2)... Singles (6,4,5,3,2,1)