Peggy Porter

Senior Peggy Porter clinched the match for UF in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. The Gators will move on to face rival Florida State.

Peggy Porter had been here before.

When Florida faced Saint Mary’s last week, the clinching match came down to her. She delivered then, winning 6-4, 5-7, 6-2. On Thursday, with all eyes turned to her court, she delivered once again.

Porter won her match 2-6, 6-1, 6-2, giving UF’s women’s tennis team its sixth win on the season in its SEC opener at the Palmer/Salloum Tennis Center in Oxford, Mississippi, defeating No. 7 Ole Miss 4-3.

Coming into the match against Ole Miss (9-2, 0-1 SEC), the Gators (6-4, 1-0 SEC) hadn’t won a doubles point since Feb. 9. It appeared that the team’s woes would continue when the Rebels’ duo of Sabina Machalova and Tea Jandric won the first doubles match, but Florida didn’t falter. The team of senior Josie Kuhlman and freshman McCartney Kessler won the next match 6-3, and UF’s No. 1 doubles pair in senior Anna Danilina and freshman Victoria Emma defeated its opponents 6-4 to win the Gators’ first doubles point in almost a month.

Surging with momentum UF hadn’t experienced in a while, Florida started out strong in singles play. Kuhlman handled her opponent in a 6-1, 6-2 victory, bringing UF up 2-0. The Gators surrendered their first point shortly after, as freshman Katie Kubicz dropped her match 7-5, 6-1. Florida responded quickly as Emma defeated her opponent 6-4, 7-6 in a closely contested matchup, extending its lead to 3-1.

Ole Miss refused to submit, however. Jandric bested Kessler 6-4, 7-6, mounting the beginnings of a comeback. Danilina, the No. 9 collegiate player in the ITA rankings, fell to the Rebels’ Arianne Hartonoe 6-3, 3-6, 3-6 in her third singles loss in a row, tying the score at 3 apiece.

For the Gators’ third consecutive match, it would all come down to one court.

In the team’s last match against Stanford, it was Kuhlman who won the clinching match. On Thursday, it was Porter’s turn.

Porter’s opponent was the Rebels’ Alexa Bortles, whose cousin Blake is the starting quarterback for the Jacksonville Jaguars. Much like Blake’s playoff game against New England in January, Bortles started off her match strong, winning easily in the first set before faltering and helplessly watching the momentum shift to her opponent. Porter won the next two sets and sealed the Rebels’ fate, starting off SEC play with a victory.

Florida will be back in action on Saturday, where it’ll take on Mississippi State in Starkville at 12 p.m.

Follow River Wells on Twitter @riverhwells and contact him at [email protected].

River Wells is a sports writer for the Alligator and covers the University of Florida women’s tennis team. He has previously covered UF swimming and diving. He has worked at the paper since Fall 2017.