BOZEMAN — Montana State snapped the Montana men's tennis team's 11-match win streak over the rival Bobcats on Thursday with a tense 4-3 win on the outdoor courts of the Anderson Tennis Center.
While the loss drops Montana to 4-5 in Big Sky play (7-13 overall), it does not totally dash the Grizzlies' hopes of advancing to the Big Sky championship tourney. The Griz need a win on Saturday and a pair of losses from Portland State this weekend to have a chance.
Doubles continued to be an issue for the Griz, with UM dropping the point to hand the Bobcats an early 1-0 team lead. It was the fifth-straight doubles loss for the Griz in Big Sky play, giving them an overall 2-7 conference record in the all-important opening round.
The Griz then dropped singles matches on courts one, two, and six, as the Bobcats beat the Griz for the first time since 2014.
"Congrats to the Cats. We've beaten them so many times in so many close matches in these same situations, I have to take some stock in that," said head coach Jason Brown. "They beat us on their home court. We didn't lose today. Our guys fought their tails off. We talked about having one match to prove we were the better team and today, they were the better team."
Montana fell down early with a 1-2 loss in the doubles round with a shuffled lineup featuring Ed Pudney and Max Korkh on court one and UM's usual top pair Alex Canellopoulos and Ludvig Hallgren on two.
The shuffled deck didn't work in the Grizzlies' favor, however, with both pairs dropping their respective match. Korkh and Pudney got down early and couldn't recover, falling 1-6 on court one. Freshman duo Oisin Shaffrey and Pontus Hallgren then picked up a win on court three, but Canellopoulos and Hallgren lost a 4-3 lead to drop the match 6-4.
Playing in the final Brawl of the Wild match of his career, Canellopoulos couldn't get going as the Grizzlies' only senior, falling to MSU senior Alex Flink in straight sets, 6-1, 6-2.
Shaffrey then got the Griz on the board with a 6-4, 6-3, win on court five over MSU senior Creel Smith to improve his conference record to 6-3 and give UM some momentum with tight matches in play all around him.
Pudney then knotted the overall match 2-2 with a straight-sets win on court four, 6-4, 6-2. Following Pudney's win it was anyone's match to claim with three more courts still in play.
Ludvig Hallgren then dropped a back-and-forth match on court two after battling through a first-set tiebreaker to fall 7-6 (4), 6-2, to make it a 3-2 Bobcat lead, needing just one win on the remaining two courts to clinch.
While Korkh was in the driver's seat on court three, eventually running to a 7-6 (5), 7-5 win to give the Griz three overall points, all eyes were on court six as the match hung with UM freshman Pontus Hallgren.
Hallgren opened the match on fire, jumping out to a 4-1 lead, looking like a Griz victory was in sight. But Bozeman native Marcos Zelver came storming back for the Bobcats to take the first set 6-4. Zelver then took another 4-1 lead in the second set, only for Hallgren to make a late run. It was too little, too late, though, as the hometown hero clinched for MSU, 6-4, 6-4.
"There was a four-game swing there that was a big momentum shift for us. Pontus fought back and had a chance, but the Bozeman kid stepped up on his home court," said Brown.
Montana now turns its attention to Southern Utah, which currently sits second in the Big Sky standings and visits Missoula on Easter Sunday, with the match scheduled for noon at the outdoor courts at the Robert O. Lindsay Tennis Center on the UM campus, weather permitting.