HOUSTON, Texas – Behind the clutch play of senior Zach White in the last match on court, the ninth-ranked Mississippi State men’s tennis Bulldogs (9-2) took down fourth-ranked Georgia (3-5) 4-3 Sunday night to close out play at the 2014 ITA National Team Indoor Championship.
It was State’s first win over UGA since 2005 and also MSU’s first against a top five team since 2011, when coach Per Nilsson’s squad defeated No. 4 Tennessee 6-1 in Starkville.
Sunday’s match began with several lineup changes for the Bulldogs from Athens, Ga. Garrett Brasseaux (injury), Austin Smith (illness) and Ben Wagland (suspension) did not participate in the match, forcing UGA to forfeit the third spot in doubles, as well as courts five and six in singles.
Georgia, in need of wins on courts one and two in doubles, struck first. The UGA duo of Nathan Pasha and Nick Wood took down MSU’s Florian Lakat and Tassilo Schmid 6-5(1) on court two, turning the attention to court one.
After trading holds, the MSU team of Jordan Angus and Malte Stropp, ranked 55th in the nation, and the UGA tandem of Hernus Pieters and Eric Diaz entered a tiebreaker to decide the doubles point. The teams again went back-and-forth in tiebreak play until Angus and Stropp earned a late mini-break and the win, 6-5(6). The win gave Stropp his 70th-career doubles win, while also giving the team of Angus and Stropp their 30th-career win together.
With the doubles point in hand and matches on courts five and six defaulted, the Maroon and White started singles with a 3-0 lead. UGA would not go down without a tremendous fight however, taking the first set on all courts except No. 4, and the Bulldogs from Athens would close out the top three spots in straight sets to tie the match at 3-3 and set up an exciting finish.
MSU’s No. 49 Stropp battled hard at the two spot, but fell to UGA’s No. 109 Wood 6-5(2), 6-2 to give Georgia their first point. UGA then pulled within one when the 20th-ranked Pasha defeated MSU’s 52nd-ranked Lakat 6-2, 6-4 at the top spot. Georgia leveled the score when Pieters fended off a furious second-set rally from State’s No. 115 Angus, winning 6-1, 6-5(5). With the score at 3-3, all eyes turned to court four, where the MSU senior White and UGA’s Diaz battled for the team victory.
After taking the first set 6-4, White dropped the second after Diaz earned a late break, 6-4. With both sides looking to capture the momentum in the final set, White landed the deciding blow early, opening the third by breaking Diaz. From there, White would hold serve to a 5-3 lead before ending the third the same way he started, breaking Diaz to clinch the match for MSU in a thrilling finish.
“Glad to close out play in Houston with a win against a top-five squad,” Nilsson said. “We worked hard to improve in doubles and it definitely showed this weekend. However, we did not perform well in singles and will have to address that before the Blue-Gray Classic.”
The Maroon and White will now travel to Montgomery, Ala., for the 2014 Blue-Gray National Collegiate Classic, from Feb. 21-23. It marks the first trip to the Blue-Gray since 2012, when MSU claimed the championship. Following the Blue-Gary, State will kick off SEC play as they host No. 36 Alabama (Friday, Feb. 28 at 2 p.m. CT) and No. 24 Auburn (Sunday, March 2 at 1 p.m. CT) at the A.J. Pitts Tennis Centre.
No. 9 Mississippi State 4, No. 4 Georgia 3
February 16, 2014 –Downtown Club at The Met – Houston, Texas
1) No. 20 Pasha (UGA) def. No. 52 Lakat (MSU) 6-2, 6-4
2) No. 109 Wood def. No. 49 Stropp (MSU) 6-5(2), 6-2
3) Pieters (UGA) def. No. 115 Angus (MSU) 6-1, 6-5(5)
4) White (MSU) def. Diaz (UGA) 6-4, 4-6, 6-3
5) Agarwal (MSU) def. No Fifth Player (UGA) by default
6) Schmid (MSU) def. No Sixth Player (UGA) by default
Order of finish… Doubles (3,2,1)… Singles (5,6,2,1,3,4)