The Michigan State men’s tennis team picked up its third win of the season in a gritty victory over Ball State. The Spartans took the match 4-3 over the Cardinals in a back-and-forth affair, improving to 4-3 overall on the year.
MSU came out firing during the doubles as fifth-year senior Anthony Pero and junior Reed Crocker set the tone early against Ball State’s duo of graduate senior Danilo Kovacevic and junior Parrish Simmons. A noticeable turnout from Spartan fans helped spark a strong start for the experienced pair.
Kovacevic and Simmons put a touch of pressure on in a few close sets, though Pero and Reed were able to respond louder and pull away rather quickly, giving the Spartans an important 6-2 win to start.
MSU was able to continue their doubles dominance with a statement performance from sophomores Max Sheldon and Josh Portnoy. The young duo showed their potential and intensity by picking up a commanding 6-1 win over Ball State’s sophomore Nathaniel Webster and freshman Jacks Lancaster.
Sheldon was particularly happy with his performance after he had beaten himself up over a few rough beginnings in past matches.
“I’ve been starting off slow in some matches, so to really get a good start was definitely something I’ve been working on,” Sheldon said.
The third doubles match went unfinished as MSU juniors Luke Baylis and Graydon Lair led 4-3 over BSU seniors Eli Herran and Vince Orlando before being called. The Spartans would head into the singles matches with a one-point advantage over the Cardinals.
The first set of singles was a similar tale to most of the other matches, as Pero went head-to-head with Webster. Webster jumped out to a strong start in the first set, taking it 6-4, while Pero responded with an electric 6-0 response in the second set. Ultimately, Webster prevailed in a highly emotional third set, winning 7-6 and drawing the Cardinals back even.
Baylis and Sheldon were responsible for two of the most competitive single matches of the day, though both prevailed in two sets. Baylis gave an inspiring performance to the Spartans as he came from behind in both sets to win 7-5 and 7-6. Sheldon put on a show of his own, defeating Orlando, one of the Cardinals' most experienced players, 6-2 and 6-4.
Portnoy continued his fantastic day with a statement victory over junior Sajin Smith after falling behind in the first set 6-3. Portnoy responded dramatically with no hesitation in the second set, earning a 6-0 victory which eventually resulted in defeating Smith 6-2 in the third set.
MSU seemed to be dominating in all aspects, but the Cardinals weren’t ready to let up yet. Eli Harren notched a 6-4 and 6-3 victory in the second and third sets after falling behind to Lair 6-2 in the first. Lancaster also rallied in two straight sets by a score of 6-4 twice to comeback on Crocker after he jumped out hot in the first set 6-1.
The strong performance in doubles helped lift the Spartans over the Cardinals in a draw throughout the singles. Coach Harry Jadun of MSU had some positive words for his team’s performance on the day.
“I thought doubles were great, honestly,” Jadun said. “We were down two of our top players honestly, and had some other guys step up today which was awesome.”
Jadun also emphasized how impactful Portnoy’s day was as well.
“He’s a guy that has been on the fringe of the lineup and he lost the first set and I honestly wasn’t too happy with his first set," Jadun said. “For him to really lock in, get a little bit pissed off and frustrated, and then apply that and bring that intensity was a really big moment for him.”
A key storyline of the day was the return of former Head MSU Men’s Tennis Coach Gene Orlando. Orlando had announced his retirement from coaching last spring before joining the Cardinals' roster as a volunteer coach to reunite with his son Vince.
A rather wholesome moment for Ball State was used as fuel for the Spartans.
“Playing against Coach O’s son, there’s some extra motivation there, can’t let him beat me," Sheldon said.
Luke Baylis also noted how important it was that the Spartans stayed composed during this reunion.
“It’s never easy playing against Ball State, I mean they are a gritty team, I mean our old head coach is coaching for them right now with his son so that makes it a little more personal," Baylis said. “We love the guy, but for the most part we stayed composed and I think that this is a good confidence booster going into Louisville next week.”
Jadun noted how pleased he was with his squad as they remained focused, while also emphasizing how important the practices are going to be while preparing for ranked Louisville on the road.
“Last time we played a top 25 team on the road we lost 4-3, came down to the last match,” Jadun said. “We know we have the level, but there is something to be said about getting the job done, on the road, in a hostile environment.”
The Spartans will travel down to Louisville, Kentucky to take on the Cardinals next Sunday, Feb. 12 at noon.