MOBILE, Ala. — No. 4-seed Middle Tennessee came back from a 3-0 deficit to defeat host South Alabama 4-3 and win the Sun Belt Conference title on Saturday. It is the third Sun Belt Conference championship for the Blue Raiders and their first since 2009.
With the win, the Blue Raiders (13-12) automatically qualify for the NCAA Championships, marking the 10th NCAA appearance for Middle Tennessee.
“What an incredible week for our team,” said coach Jimmy Borendame. “Our backs were against the wall and we responded like champions. Every match was amazing and our kids deserve so much credit for the way they kept battling. I am very proud of them for what they accomplished today.
“I also want to recognize my assistant coach, Nate Feldman, who was very instrumental in this championship. He works extremely hard and has been a key to our successful first season.”
Middle Tennessee cruised past No. 5 seed Louisiana-Lafayette 4-1 and upset No. 1 Denver in the semifinals 4-3 to reach the championship match. MT’s Matt Langley was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player after winning all of his singles matches at the No. 3 position.
South Alabama was able to earn the doubles point to jump on the board first. The Jags pair of Dauw Kruger and Lucas Viel easily took down Langley and Dimitri Pippos 8-3 on the No. 3 court to give USA the advantage.
Romain Bocaert and Hanno Bartsch then clinched the doubles point for USA with a hard-fought 8-6 defeat against Ben Davis and Shaun Waters at the No. 1 position. Viel, an all-conference selection, got past Middle Tennessee’s Elliot Barnwell 6-2, 6-1 on the No. 5 court to extend USA’s lead to 2-0.
Kruger moved the Jags ahead even further by handling Kyle Wishing 6-1, 6-2 on the No. 6 court. Viel and Kruger each finished the tournament without dropping a single set in both singles and doubles play.
Despite being down 3-0, the Blue Raiders weren’t ready to give in. Langley put MT on the board with a win on the No. 3 court, taking down Christian Kuehne in straight sets 6-3, 6-4.
Two All-SBC selections battled it out on the No. 1 court, but Davis was able to grab the victory for the Blue Raiders against Bocaert 6-3, 7-6 (7-5). Pippos was able to even the score at the No. 4 position with a victory in three sets over Bartsch 6-3, 5-7, 6-3.
With the match even at 3-3, the final point came down to the No. 2 court. USA’s Alex Bernard claimed the first set 7-6, but MT’s Waters answered with a 7-6 victory of his own to take the second. Down to the wire, Waters led 5-0, but Bernard began to inch back to put the score at 5-2. Waters was then able to clinch the final point to take the match 6-2 from Bernard.