STARKVILLE, Miss. – Behind several strong performances from freshmen, the 16th-ranked Mississippi State men’s tennis Bulldogs (12-4, 2-0 Southeastern Conference) defeated No. 31 Auburn (11-5, 1-1) 4-1 to close out the opening weekend of SEC play at the A.J. Pitts Tennis Centre on Sunday.
The win gave the Bulldogs a 2-0 start to SEC play for the third-straight season and also improved MSU’s overall record against AU to 25-20, including wins in six of the last seven meetings between the teams. State avenged its only loss to the Tigers in that streak, which came just a week ago in the Blue-Gray Classic in Montgomery, Ala.
For the third-straight match, MSU kicked off play by taking the doubles point for the early lead. MSU’s top duo of Jordan Angus and Malte Stropp downed AU’s Dan Cochrane and Oliver Plaskett 8-4 for their fourth-straight victory. State’s tandem of Rishab Agarwal and Zach White clinched the point and moved to 7-1 on the season with an 8-4 win against the Tigers’ Dante Saleh and Joseph Van Dooren on court three.
The doubles win for Stropp moved him into sixth place in the career doubles wins list at MSU with 74, passing current head coach Per Nilsson, who earned 73 doubles wins from 1991-94.
Singles play proved to be much closer to start, as three first sets were decided in tiebreakers. After MSU’s Agarwal took the first set tiebreaker on court five, State’s sophomore Angus wrapped up a dominating match, defeating AU’s Petar Tomic 6-2, 6-4 on court four to put MSU up 2-0. State then swung the momentum completely in its favor after taking two more first-set tiebreakers on courts two and six.
The Tigers’ lone point of the day came on court three, where the 119th-ranked Cochrane downed MSU’s White 6-2, 6-2 to pull Auburn within one at 2-1. However, Agarwal would put the Bulldog lead at 3-1 with a 7-6(5), 6-0 triumph on court five against AU’s Van Dooren.
Play then came down to the three final courts, with MSU finding itself serving for the match nearly simultaneously on courts two and six. With Robin Haden up 40-15 on court six and No. 63 Lakat up 40-0 on No. 2, it was a photo finish for the two MSU freshmen, as Lakat clinched for the second-straight day, defeating AU’s Lengsfeld 7-6(3), 6-2.
Matches were suspended on the remaining courts, with MSU’s Haden leading AU’s No. 120 Saleh 7-6(5), 5-3 on six and the Tigers’ No. 118 Ollert leading State’s No. 71 Stropp 6-4, 5-7, 2-1 at No. 1.
“Great win today for us today against a tough Auburn squad,” Nilsson said. “We won three tiebreakers in the first set and I think that really set the tone for us and helped us a lot. If we didn’t get those, it could have gone the other way.”
The Bulldogs will now hit the road for a four-match road swing, featuring tough SEC foes in No. 35 Georgia, No. 11 Tennessee, No. 25 Kentucky and No. 14 Vanderbilt over the next two weekends. State kicks off the road trip against UGA Friday, March 7, at 1 p.m. CT in Athens, Ga.
For more information on Mississippi State men’s tennis and updates throughout the 2014 Blue Gary National Tennis Classic, fans can follow the Bulldogs on Twitter (@HailStateMT), Facebook (HailStateMT) and Instagram (HailStateMT).
No. 16 Mississippi State 4, No. 31 Auburn 1
March 2, 2014 – A.J. Pitts Tennis Centre – Starkville, Miss.
1) No. 118 Ollert (AU) vs. No. 71 Stropp (MSU) 6-4, 5-7, 2-1(susp.)
2) No. 63 Lakat (MSU) def. Lengsfeld (AU) 7-6(3), 6-2
3) No. 119 Cochrane (AU) def. White (MSU) 6-2, 6-2
4) Angus (MSU) def. Petar Tomic (AU) 6-2, 6-4
5) Agarwal (MSU) def. Van Dooren (AU) 7-6(5), 6-0
6) Robin Haden (MSU) vs. No. 120 Saleh (AU) 7-6(5), 5-3
Order of finish… Doubles (1,3)… Singles (4,3,5,2)