Faced with first-day elimination at the SEC tennis championship, Tennessee's men stuck it out to beat Alabama, 4-1, in a four-hour match Thursday in Starkville, Miss.
After losing the doubles point in a deciding tiebreaker, the Vols regrouped for singles and rallied past Alabama to advance to the quarterfinals.
Hunter Reese, Brandon Fickey and Jarryd Chaplin each won their matches in straight sets before freshman Mikelis Libietis clinched the victory by beating Ricky Doverspike 7-6 (5), 7-6 (3) on court 1.
"We competed on every court," UT coach Sam Winterbotham said. "I think we can say this was the first time all year we had every court competing. I would say that shows a little bit of character, the kind of character we know they have. We've been looking for them to mature."
No. 16 Tennessee (14-12) faces host and ninth-ranked Mississippi State noon EDT today. The Bulldogs won 4-3 in the regular season.
In the regular-season meeting between the schools two weeks ago, Alabama won the doubles point en route to a 6-1 victory in Tuscaloosa, Ala.
In singles Thursday, Tennessee won four of six first sets and the pieces eventually started falling into place. In a five-minute span, the Vols went from trailing to taking a 3-1 lead.
Fickey defeated Jarryd Botha 6-4, 6-2 on court 3, and Reese followed with a 6-1, 6-4 win against Daniil Proskura on court 2. Chaplin, who lost to Reddy two weeks ago in a pair of tiebreakers, won 6-4, 6-1 on court 4.
On Court 1, Libietis had one match point slip away when receiving at 5-4 in the second set against Doverspike, but the Vols' leading freshman made quick work in the second-set tiebreaker. Doverspike double faulted on match point No. 3 to give Libietis and the Vols the team victory.