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Monday, June 17, 2024

The Gators men's tennis team couldn't quite pull off the improbable on Sunday.

After advancing all the way to the Southeastern Conference Tournament final following its upset of top-seeded Georgia on Saturday, No. 12 UF (15-7) didn't have enough to defeat second-seeded and sixth-ranked Mississippi (21-4) in the final and fell 4-1.

"Anytime you play at that level two days in a row, it's very demanding, but Ole Miss had to do the same thing," UF coach Andy Jackson said. "I think the difference in the match today was Ole Miss was a superior team on the day and more experienced. We played well, just not good enough to handle another top-five team."

The fourth-seeded Gators trounced the Rebels 5-2 on the road earlier this season, and UF found itself in a similar position to that match early. The Gators dropped the doubles point 8-4 and 8-4 to trail 1-0 as it did in the teams' first meeting.

In that match, UF was able to rebound from losing the doubles point by winning five of six singles matches.

This time was a different story, however.

Mississippi extended its lead to 2-0 before senior Nestor Briceno put UF on the board with a 6-3, 6-2 win. Briceno won all three of his matches and failed to lose a set in the tournament.

Freshman Tyler Hochwalt was unable to force a third set in his match and fell 7-5, 6-3, and senior Greg Ouellette's 6-4, 6-2 loss clinched the title for the Rebels, who ended the Gators' tournament run for the third year in a row.

"Our team showed a lot of progress at this tournament," Jackson said. "They played very good matches, and today we fought very hard. I'm very proud of what the team was able to show."

But it was a bit of a surprise for the Gators to even be in Sunday's match.

UF upset No. 3 Georgia 4-2 in a semifinal match on Saturday. The defending national champion Bulldogs had won the previous two SEC Tournament titles.

The Gators ended a four-match losing streak to the Bulldogs, including a 5-2 loss at home earlier this year.

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Georgia narrowly escaped with the doubles point, taking two courts 8-6 and 9-8 (5) to claim a 1-0 lead.

The Bulldogs went up 2-0 before Briceno (6-1, 6-1) and Hochwalt (6-4, 6-2) tied the match with two straight-set wins.

Ouellette, who was named SEC Men's Tennis Player of the Year last week and is ranked No. 2 nationally, gave UF its first lead of the match 3-2 with a 6-4, 6-4 victory over Travis Helgeson, ranked No. 4 nationally. It was the second time this season Ouellette defeated Georgia's top player.

The Gators needed to win one of the final two courts, which hosted freshmen Johnny Hamui and Erik Corace, to clinch the match.

Both courts went to third-set tiebreakers, and Corace finished off the upset bid with a 6-4, 6-7 (2), 7-6 (3) victory.

UF swept South Carolina 4-0 in Friday's quarterfinal match by winning the doubles point and three straight-set singles matches. It was the Gators' second victory in one week over the Gamecocks.

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