NORMAN – For the fifth straight year, the Oklahoma men's tennis team is moving on to the round of 16 of the NCAA Championships.
The Sooners defeated Mississippi State, 4-1, on Saturday at the Headington Family Tennis Center in Norman, Okla., to claim the regional title and a final-site berth.
OU entered the day coming off a 4-0 win over Bryant in the opening round on Friday, while the Bulldogs used a 4-0 win over SMU to advance to Saturday's round of 32.
Oklahoma continued its recent success in doubles, capturing the point for the fifth consecutive match. OU senior Andrew Harris and junior Spencer Papa paired up to defeat Mississippi State's Trevor Foshey/Niclas Braun, 6-3, before seniors Florin Bragusi and Alex Ghilea clinched the point with a 6-3 win on court two.
"Those guys are big-time players and they come to play in the big moments," OU head coach Nick Crowell said. "That doubles point really set us in the right direction."
Harris and Papa, recently named an All-Big 12 doubles tandem, moved to 8-3 in 2017 with the win. Bragusi and Ghilea's doubles mark improved to 10-5.
Singles was a close affair throughout the match, despite the final score. Three of the six first sets went to tiebreakers, with OU taking two of those to grab momentum. Freshman Jochen Bertsch played the clincher Saturday, pushing the Sooners into the round of 16 with a 7-6 (8-6), 6-4 win on court five against Giovanni Oradini.
Leading up to Bertsch's clincher were victories by Harris at No. 2 and Ghilea at the No. 3 spot. Harris, ranked No. 32 nationally, was victorious over Mate Cutura, 6-4, 6-3, putting the Sooners up 2-0.
"I challenged Andrew before the match to try to step up today and get off the court quick, and he did that," Crowell said. "He's an unbelievable player and person, and I'm glad he could win his last match on these courts."
No. 47 Ghilea extended his singles mark to 18-3 thanks to a 7-5, 6-4 win against No. 115 Strahinja Rakic. His win pushed Oklahoma's lead to 3-0 to set up Bertsch's clincher.
"I had so many emotions going through my head, especially in the second set," Ghilea said. "I was like, 'wow, this is going to be my last game here.' I just really didn't want to end on a losing note, and I want to remember this moment for the rest of my life. Winning today just means a lot and will mean a lot to me in the future, too."
Bertsch, a freshman from Mannheim, Germany, takes a 14-6 singles record to the round of 16.
"It's huge for a freshman - coming in in January and being the one to send us to Athens," Crowell said. "He's done it all year long. He did it at the National Indoors against Northwestern, so if you put him in that situation, you know he's going to be there and fight hard and that's what it takes at this level."
Oklahoma is slated to play Ohio State on Thursday, May 18 at 12 p.m. ET in Athens, Ga. Oklahoma is looking to advance to at least the NCAA Final for the fourth straight season while in Georgia.
"We've just got to be good in the doubles, fight through adversity and play together as a team," Crowell added. "You saw today we did that, no one went away on all six courts."
For more information on Oklahoma men's tennis, follow the team on Twitter @OU_MTennis.