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NEW TAMPA — On a day when his team claimed little more than consolation prizes, Steinbrenner standout Luke Blankenship’s parting gift — respect from his familiar foe — may have been the most gratifying.
A year after failing to win a game against Jesuit sophomore Jamie Sullivan in the Class 2A, District 10 final at No. 1 singles, Blankenship at least made the Tigers star sweat for his trophy this season.
Down 5-4 in the second set and devoid of momentum, Sullivan broke Blankenship’s serve in the 10th game to stop the junior’s surge and prevail 6-1, 7-5, at Hunter’s Green.
“He was playing well, I gave him I guess a little bit of an opportunity,” said Sullivan, who as district No. 1 singles champ qualifies for the individual portion of the 2A state tournament.
“He’s a good player and he’s definitely going to take a hold of it. I just went back to the fundamentals of it, playing long rallies until I had an opportunity to (capitalize).”
Subtract that second set, and an intense three-set win by Jesuit’s T.R. Bopp at No. 4 singles, and suspense was as prevalent as wooden rackets on the Hunter’s Green clay courts.
Jordan Nasser (No. 2), David Pagliarulo (No. 3) and Ryan Walden (No. 5) also won in straight sets for Jesuit, which captured its 16th district crown in coach Joe Curtis’ 17 seasons. Sullivan and Nasser topped Blankenship and Anthony Melatti, 6-0, 6-3 in No. 1 doubles.
The Sullivan/Nasser tandem also move on to the individual state tournament, set for April 20-22 in Sanford. As district team champ and runnerup, Jesuit and Steinbrenner move on to first-round regionals Tuesday.
The girls’ finals were equally anticlimactic, with Steinbrenner sweeping all five singles spots and the No. 1 doubles point in what amounted to a dual match against Strawberry Crest.
Warriors freshman Grace Korta needed barely 30 minutes to top Arza Shivani 6-0, 6-0, and finish the tournament without having dropped a game. Kaleigh Wagner, Tatum Brannan, Taylor Brannan and Carli Schwartz also prevailed in straight sets.
The Chargers found mild atonement at No. 2 doubles, where Hyunbihn Shin and Morgan Cardon topped Erika Smitten and Alexandra Berglund 6-1, 4-6, 6-3. Korta and Wagner earned an individual state berth with a 6-0, 6-0 romp of Shivani and Kimberly Cunningham at No. 1.