April 20, 2019 10:00:25 PM
Ben Portnoy - [email protected]
The Mississippi State men's tennis team is back in familiar territory.
The Bulldogs took down South Carolina 4-2 in the Southeastern Conference Championship semifinals Saturday in Gainesville, Florida, as they look to defend last year's tournament title.
They'll face Tennessee in today's final.
"I thought it was one of our best dual matches of the whole year -- even though we lost the doubles point -- because of how we competed," MSU coach Matt Roberts said. "We were tough. We never went away."
Falling behind 1-0 after doubles, the Bulldogs battled back in the singles portion of Saturday's match.
Senior Nuno Borges, the No. 2 player in the country, set MSU records with his 113th career singles win and 178th victory overall by disposing of South Carolina's No. 6-ranked Paul Jubb 4-6, 6-3,6-1.
"He was not going to be denied today," Roberts said. "He lost the first set but you could just tell. His self-talk was very positive -- he kept telling himself the right things -- and he was building himself up through that match and then he broke that guy down down the stretch."
Senior Strahinja Rakic delivered the deciding point with his 7-5, 1-6, 6-3 win over Raphael Lambling at No. 3 singles.
It's been an up and down season for Rakic. After taking an internship this past summer, Roberts said he wasn't in the same form on the court as was necessary.
The SEC even challenged MSU's lineup ahead of a March 24 match against Georgia arguing that Rakic was not good enough to play No. 3 singles.
In response, he beat Georgia's Robert Loeb 6-1, 6-1 at No. 4 singles.
"He's a senior, he's been through it," Roberts said. "He knows when he needs to step up."
MSU's other two singles wins came from seniors Niclas Braun at No. 4 and Trevor Foshey at No. 5.
Second-seeded MSU will take on No. 4 seed Tennessee Sunday at 2 p.m. for the league title.
The Volunteers and Bulldogs met March 22 in Starkville -- a 4-3 MSU win in which Braun won 16 of the final 18 third set points at No. 3 singles to clinch the victory.
This is the third consecutive season the Bulldogs will appear in the SEC Championship finals.
Ben Portnoy reports on Mississippi State sports for The Dispatch.