BY GREGG ELLIS
STARKVILLE – Ole Miss enjoyed the thrill of winning an overall Southeastern Conference title so much last year, it decided to go for another adventurous ride this season.
Saturday afternoon in front of a raucous crowd of 255 at the A.J. Pitts Centre, the No. 3 Rebels claimed their 15th-straight win against Mississippi State with a 4-3 victory.
More important, Ole Miss won the SEC crown for the second year in a row, its fourth in school history.
“I told the guys if they would give three more good hours after doubles, then we would have a chance to win the title,” said a Gatorade-doused UM coach Billy Chadwick, whose team improved to 20-2 overall and 10-1 in league play after notching its fifth-straight match since losing to Georgia back in late March. “To come over here and play the best State team they have had in five or six years says a lot about this team. We knew what kind of difficult assignment that would be.”
After the Rebels took the early advantage by claiming the doubles point, the Bulldogs bounced back to take the first set in four of the six courts. But in three of those matches, Ole Miss rallied to take the second set.
The only one it didn't was at No. 6 singles, where MSU's Florent Girod claimed a 6-2, 6-4 win against Karim Alayli.
Moments later, though, Catalin Gard, ranked sixth nationally, regained the lead for the Rebels when he claimed a 6-3, 6-3 win against State's Ivan Bjelica at No. 1 singles.
Then came the swing match at No. 2 singles.
It appeared MSU true freshmen Pierre Mouillon, who joined the team in January, had control of the match after running past Eric Claesson 6-1 in the first set.
But during the break prior to the start of the second set, Claesson regrouped and found his rhythm.
He rallied to even the match with a 6-1 win before taking the third set 6-0 to claim the victory.
The title was then clinched when Juan Pablo Di Cesare turned back Luiz Carvalho 6-2, 6-4 at No. 4 singles.
“I never had a comeback like that,” Claesson said. “I don't know what happened that first set. It went so quick.
“But I played this guy before and knew he could play as well as he did in the first set. I also knew he could fold back. I never felt I couldn't turn it around.”
Claesson and Chadwick both gave a lot of credit to the estimated 125 Ole Miss fans that made the trip to Starkville.
“I felt we had the homecourt advantage,” Chadwick said. “The fans really got behind Eric. If they weren't here, I don't think he would have won the match.”
Despite Mouillon's loss, he finished regular-season play 9-2 in the SEC.
Fourth-year MSU coach Sylvain Guichard didn't pit the loss on his star freshman. Instead, he pointed out how Mouillon has been key for the Bulldogs this season on numerous occasions.
“The pressure got to him, but he'll be clutch next season,” said Guichard, whose team opens play in the SEC Tournament in Athens on Thursday at 11-8, 6-5. “He's a freshman, and he'll learn. He got a little petrified out there. But, he's not a choker. He's clinched so many matches for us.”
No. 3 Ole Miss 4, No. 20 Mississippi State 3
No. 1 Catalin Gard (UM) def. Ivan Bjelica 6-3, 6-3; No. 2 Eric Claesson (UM) def. Pierre Mouillon 1-6, 6-1, 6-0; No. 3 Philippe Frayssinoux (MSU) dife. Erling Tveit 6-4, 1-6, 6-2; No. 4 Juan Pablo Di Cesare (UM) def. Luiz Carvalho 6-2, 6-4; No. 5 Jose-Carlos Pinto (MSU) def. Jakob Klaeson 6-3, 4-6, 6-0; No. 6 Florent Girod (MSU) def. Karim Alayli 6-2, 6-4.
No. 1 Eric Claesson/Catalin Gard (UM) def. Ivan Bjelica/Jose-Carlos Pinto 8-3; No. 2 Fredrik Aarum/Erling Tveit (UM) def. Luiz Carvalho/Philippe Frayssinoux 8-3; No. 3 Jakob Klaeson/Bram Ten Berge (UM) def. Florent Girod/Pierre Mouillon 5-7 default.
Records: Ole Miss 20-2, 10-1. Mississippi State 11-8, 6-5.