MONTGOMERY, Ala. - The No. 48 Mississippi State men's tennis team dropped a hard-fought, 4-2 decision to the No. 26 Notre Dame Fighting Irish in a first-round match in the Blue-Gray Classic Thursday. The match saw four tiebreakers and two-three set matches played before finally being decided.
The Bulldogs (5-6) took a close doubles point to open the afternoon. State dropped the first doubles match at the No. 1 position when junior Chris Doerr and sophomore Tanner Stump fell to the 25th-ranked Irish tandem of Brett Helgeson and Tyler Davis, 8-5, but the Bulldogs would respond by claiming the final two doubles matches to jump out to a 1-0 lead on the Irish.
At No. 3, the Bulldog duo of sophomore Antonio Lastre and senior Ryan Farlow took down Notre Dame's doubles team of Matt Johnson and Niall Fitzgerald, 8-5. The MSU rookie duo of Louis Cant and Artem Ilyushin then won a tiebreaker over ND's Stephen Havens and Casey Watt, 9-8(7), to give MSU an early 1-0 lead.
In singles, things were very tight early on, as five of the six first sets were decided by 6-4 or closer sets, including three in 7-6 tiebreakers.
Notre Dame (9-7) would ultimately rebound from the doubles point to build a 3-1 lead, first from the No. 1 position where MState's Farlow, ranked 108th nationally, fell to No. 22 Helgeson, 6-4, 6-0. At No. 4, the MSU freshman Cant put up a good fight in the first set before falling to Daniel Stahl of Notre Dame, 7-5, 6-3. Then, at the No. 6 spot, State's Stump dropped a tiebreaker in the first set and eventually the match to the Irish's Fitzgerald, 7-6(4), 6-1.
State trimmed the lead to 3-2 when Doerr helped the Maroon and White with his two-set handling of Notre Dame's David Anderson at the No. 5 slot, 7-6(4), 6-3.
The final two matches went to three sets, with State needing both matches from the sophomore Lastre and the rookie Ilyushin battling at the No. 2 and 3 positions. Lastre, who rebounded from a first-set tiebreaker loss to win the second in a 6-0 blanking, finally fell to the Irish's Watt at No. 3, 7-6(6), 0-6, 6-3, handing Notre Dame the team win.
As all matches in the Blue-Gray are suspended once a team clinches the fourth point, the match at No. 2 did not finish. State's Ilyushin and Havens of Notre Dame were knotted at 5-5 in the third set at that point.
"It was tough to lose one like that with so many close matches. We battled very hard but didn't have quite enough in the end to pull the upset," said MSU head coach Per Nilsson. "Now we have to get ready for tomorrow against another quality opponent."
MSU will look to rebound in the Blue-Gray back draw tomorrow at 3 p.m. CST, when MSU will battle the No. 41 Oklahoma Sooners, who fell 4-0 to No. 22 Boise State Thursday.
Live stats will be available at www.msstateathletics.com.