Ten Cups

JACKSON – In the 12th annual River Hills Mississippi Cup, the MSU Bulldogs gave it that ole college try against the Ole Miss Rebels and still it wasn't enough.

Ten years ago Mississippi State won the second of these events, a year after also winning the inaugural. The Bulldogs haven't won one since. Heck, they haven't beaten Ole Miss at all in the sport of men's tennis since. They're 0-for-22 vs. the Rebels during that span.

Ten years ago this month, Eli Manning was still in high school in New Orleans, and David Cutcliffe had yet to coach a regular season game for the Rebels. Ole Miss men's basketball was still a few weeks shy of its first NCAA Tournament win ever. Mike Bianco was head baseball coach at McNeese State.

Bill Clinton still had nearly two years left in The White House prior to the first term of George W. Bush the last time an MSU team won a men's tennis match against Ole Miss.

No wonder the Bulldogs gave it everything they had on this Thursday night in the Capital City. No wonder they were emotional and animated. No wonder they were focused and driven and fought with all their might.

And still it wasn't enough.

Ole Miss took the doubles point to get things started and moved on from there to defeat Mississippi State 4-2 in a match that could best be described as a thriller.

This one had more twists and turns than one could imagine. The place was packed for doubles and also to watch two Mississippians slug it out on court one in singles.

Two sons of River Hills and metro Jackson laid it all on the line, and the elder statesmen prevailed. It took three sets and a tiebreaker for MSU's 22-year-old senior Ryan Farlow to get past Ole Miss' 17-year-old freshman Devin Britton. The Mississippi Cup had rarely seen such drama and interest.

Britton felt ill in the afternoon and evening, and when he sat in the sideline chair down 0 games to 5 in the first set for several extra minutes with a health issue, the whole place wondered if he'd be able to finish. But did he ever finish.

The heart and fight he showed after that proved all we'd heard about the talented Britton was true. He lost the first set 6-1, won the second 6-3, and lost the third 7-6 with a 7-5 tiebreaker deciding it.

Britton wouldn't comment on how he felt before or during the match, not wanting that aspect to come across as an excuse.

"I was just trying to figure out a way to get into the match," he said of being down 0-5 in the first. "Nothing was going my way at that point."

From then on a lot did.

It's been a tough last three matches for Britton, losing at No. 1 singles against Kentucky, Wake Forest, and now Mississippi State. But the improvement is there.

"It's getting better and better," the Brandon native said. "I'm not playing my best yet. It'll come around eventually."

He's played all over and competed against the best in his age group worldwide. Stood toe to toe with them and beaten most of them. He's a collegiate star in the making.

Here's how I put it in perspective. When the 22-year-old seniors he's now facing were his age, Britton was 12.

Had Britton won he would have closed the match out for the Rebels. Senior Jonas Berg at two singles and junior Kalle Norberg at three singles had given Ole Miss a 3-0 lead. But Farlow's win not only kept State in the match, it was the first point the Bulldogs had scored against Ole Miss in this event since 2002.

For six straight Mississippi Cups, State left here without scratching. How's that for total domination?

So the match played on. After MSU cut the lead to 3-2 with a win at five singles as Rebel freshman Chris Thiemann fought hard but fell short, it was down to senior Bram ten Berge at No. 4 and freshman Otto Sauer at No. 6.

Sauer won the first set against Chris Doerr of State 7-6 (7-4 in the tiebreaker). In the second set, Sauer was up 5-4 but Doerr was serving. And Sauer broke him.

Ten Berge's match at No. 4 was halted because the Rebels had enough points for victory at 4-2.

"It's nice to win a match and still not play your best," said Sauer, admitting he gutted it out and experienced some nervousness when it all neared the end.

He'd been in a similar situation against Kentucky last weekend and come through. He did again Thursday night.

"I know Mississippi State is a big rival, but I haven't been here that long," said Sauer, one of four freshmen on the Rebel squad. "I understand it a little more now. It was a good win for us."

So the River Hills Mississippi Cup is headed to Oxford once more.

"We got tested and had to work hard at every single position," said Ole Miss head coach Billy Chadwick, who mentioned before and after the match how improved MSU is this season. "This will help us in the long run. This was a real test for us, especially in the bottom half of the lineup. I'm proud our guys found a way to win."

Just like they have every time in this event since way back in 1999.

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