STARKVILLE – For the third time in the last four years, Mississippi State men’s tennis has reached the Round of 16 at the NCAA Championships.
The 16th-ranked Bulldogs earned their 13th overall appearance in the Round of 16 with a 4-2 victory over No. 27 Middle Tennessee in the championship match of the Starkville Regional on Saturday afternoon.
“It was just a tough match, a great college match with a great atmosphere,” said head coach Matt Roberts. “I think Middle Tennessee competed really well and made it tough for us all day. I’m just proud of the guys on how they dealt with the emotions because they want to win so bad.”
MSU (21-7) moves on to meet No. 2 national seed TCU in the Fort Worth Super Regional next Saturday.
“It means a lot,” said junior Carles Hernandez. “We have a great group of guys this year. The last thing we want to do is end this. We are having so much fun out there. We are sacrificing together. That helps us as a group and individually as well. We want to keep going as long as possible.”
The Bulldogs jumped out to an early 3-0 lead against MTSU (22-8) in front of a jam-packed crowd at the A.J. Pitts Tennis Centre and held off a late charge by the Blue Raiders.
No. 81 Nemanja Malesevic and Michal Novansky got the Mississippi State faithful into things early with their 6-2 doubles win over Pavel Motl and Stijn Slump. Petar Jovanovic and Ewen Lumsden were then able to clinch the crucial point in a 7-6(0) tiebreaker against Shu Matsuoka and Francisco Rocha and gain the initial advantage.
“I feel like the doubles point was huge for us,” Roberts said.
Jovanovic, ranked 124th, made short work of Rocha in singles 6-3, 6-2 as did Gregor Ramskogler in straight sets against Matsuoka 6-4, 6-2 to pull the Bulldogs within a point of ending it early.
Middle Tennessee continued to fight with back-to-back wins when No. 72 Slump downed 78th-ranked Malesevic 6-4, 6-2 and Marcel Kamrowski upset No. 95 Ewen Lumsden 6-2, 6-7(9), 6-4.
However for the second straight day, No. 120 Hernandez was able to clinch the match for MSU. This time it was in comeback fashion. Hernandez was edged in his first set by Ondrej Horak 4-6 but battled back to win the next two 6-3, 7-6(3) to send the maroon-clad crowd home happy.
“[The crowd] was the best thing we could ask for,” Hernandez said. “It was almost full today. They were super involved…
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