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TAMPA — As dusk settled on the clay courts of Cheval Athletic Club, the lawn chairs gathered around Court No. 7, where the latest chapter of a new rivalry decided a region championship Thursday night.
Hillsborough and King met for the third time this season — with King winning in the regular season but Hillsborough prevailing in districts — this time with a trip to the Class 3A state tournament on the line.
And never before this season did the Terriers’ hopes ride on their No. 2 doubles team of Will Clarke and Greg Hasegawa. Usually, a Hillsborough win is well in hand before that final match.
But Clarke and Hasegawa rebounded from dropping their Nos. 3 and. 4 singles matches, respectively, to seal Hillsborough’s second straight state berth with a 6-4, 7-6 (7-4) win just before darkness arrived.
“We knew what we had to do,” Hasegawa said. “All we had to do is win. We lose and it’s over.
“A lot of pressure, but it was worth it.”
Hillsborough No. 1 Jack Murphy, 7-6 (7-5), 6-4, and No. 2 Brian Kowalski, 6-1, 6-2, won their singles matches to give in straight sets — and later teamed up for a No. 1 doubles win.
“Those guys usually win three points for us no matter what,” Clarke said. “And all we need to do is win a singles match and we win. We just had to battle it out. It was all up to us.”
Said Hasegawa: “We didn’t want to let them down. They’ve been so good to us.”
But King rallied in singles, taking a 3-2 lead and forcing the Terriers to win both doubles matches to advance.
After King No. 5 Eric Li also won 6-1, 6-0, Lions No. 3 Hari Asokkumor battled cramps late to beat Clarke, 7-6 (7-5), 6-4, and No. 4 Chiran Witanachchi rebounded from an opening-set loss to beat Hasegawa, 2-6, 6-4, 7-5.
After Murphy and Kowaski won No. 1 singles easily, 6-2, 6-2, it came down to Clarke and Hasegawa, a team that lost in the first round of districts.
But the pair was up for the task, and will make their first trip to states as players. Last season, they watched — Clarke the team’s No. 6 and Hasegawa No. 7 — and now they will play for a state title.
“They really stepped up,” Kowalski said. “That was huge. I don’t really get nervous when I’m playing. It was more nervewracking watching them playing.”