A trip to Athens, Ga., and the Round of 16 in the NCAA Tennis Championships was on the line Saturday when the Baylor Bears and the Mississippi State Bulldogs got together in second round action of the NCAA tournament.
The match took over nine hours to complete and came down to the final match of the day on court six between Zach White of the Bulldogs and Baylor’s Julian Bley. The thrilling battle went down to the wire with White falling 7-6, 7-6 and State falling 4-3 to the Bears.
"This was a tough loss (Saturday), especially for our seniors," MSU head men's tennis coach Per Nilsson said. "I was really proud of Zach's efforts and this was a great season. I am thankful for the seniors that put their time and effort into this program and we are going to truly miss them."
The Bulldogs (20-7) dropped the doubles match in the morning when Baylor (19-11) took courts two and three by the slimmest of margins 8-6 and 9-8. The 1-0 advantage heading into singles play proved to be large for Bears as it was that point that allowed the match to continue into the sixth match of the afternoon.
Shortly after singles play began, rain started to fall, leading to a two and a half hour rain delay that eventually forced the match indoors to the McCarthy Gymnasium.
Once play resumed with Artem Ilyushin taking on Mate Zsiga, the Bears quickly took a 2-0 lead for the match with 7-5, 6-3 wins. However State answered on court two with a win from James Caudry over Roberto Maytin 6-3, 6-2.
But the Bears put the Bulldogs on the ropes with a win on court three by Marko Krickovic 6-2, 6-4 over Malte Stropp.
The 3-1 advantage meant State had to win the final three matches in order to earn the trip to the next round.
State turned to George Coupland and Louis Cant to extend the match. Cant earned MSU’s second point with wins of 6-4 and 6-2. Moments later, Coupland closed out the third to draw the match all-square with the final match to resume.
When the final match took the court, it did so in a first set tiebreaker tied at 3-3 after over four hours of delay.
“It was just awful," White said. "I didn’t exactly want to start in a three-all tiebreaker after four hours of waiting, but it didn’t really matter because I still got that second set turned around.”
White dropped the first set 7-6 (5) and begin to battle in the second set but never was able to get the edge over Bley. The match went back an forth and eventually went to a second set tiebreaker that saw White fight off six match points before falling 7-6 (10).
“I went into the second set a little nervous but I knew that would go away," White said. "I had chances to have set points myself."
Nilsson was proud of the effort and determination White displayed when the match was on the line, but admitted the hill was simply too steep to climb.
“We felt like were favored in doubles, No. 2, No 3. No. 4 and No. 5,” he said. “Malte’s leg just wouldn’t hold up and that cost us the doubles and a point in singles. That’s two points right there that we felt we should win. That put us in a big hole right there.”
The loss ends the season for the Bulldogs as a team who claimed their second consecutive Southeastern Conference Western Division title.
Individually, MSU's seniors - Cant, Coupland and Ilyushin - will compete in the NCAA Singles and Doubles Championships in Athens, Ga., beginning May 23.