WESLEY CHAPEL — The Wiregrass Ranch boys faced their stiffest challenge of the season against Daytona Beach Mainland in Thursday’s Class 3A region final.
The Bulls and Buccaneers traded blistering groundstrokes in a back-and-forth affair that had normally calm Bulls coach Dave Wilson walking nervously from court to court while examining the action.
Mainland defeated Wiregrass Ranch 4-3 a year ago to prevent the Bulls from reaching state. On Thursday, the Bulls got their revenge, winning three of five singles matches along with No. 1 doubles to prevail 4-2. This is the first Wiregrass Ranch boys tennis team to qualify for state.
“I sat in the chair for about five seconds and then got up and paced because I couldn’t watch after a while,” Wilson joked.
The Bulls’ Nos. 1, 4 and 5 singles players did their part to calm Wilson’s stomach. Courage Okungbowa, playing in the Bulls’ top spot, easily dispatched Mainland’s Logan Whitmore 6-0, 6-1. Okungbowa dropped his first game of the postseason but otherwise faced little resistance from Whitmore.
Jaime Feliciano, the Bulls’ No. 4, was a straight-sets winner over Evan Iler 6-1, 6-2. Wiregrass’ Dan Helfrich, playing in the No. 5 position, blanked Austin Schwartz 6-0, 6-0. Like Okungbowa, Helfrich has also steamrolled through the postseason, losing just one game.
Mainland grabbed two singles wins, though, forcing the Bulls to rely on their doubles play to advance. Mainland’s Dylan Fisher handed Spencer Ong his first loss of the season in a 6-1, 6-4 victory at No. 2 singles. The Bucs’ Elgin Welch rallied from a set down to defeat Eric Busch at No. 3 3-6, 6-3, 6-2.
“All of a sudden, they come back and win in three sets against Eric, and Spencer lost, which he’s never lost for the whole season,” Wilson said. “So it’s 3-2 going into doubles, and anything can happen in doubles.”
Behind Okungbowa’s consistent groundstrokes and Ong’s superior net play, the Bulls No. 1 doubles duo downed Whitmore and Fisher 6-2, 6-3 to wrap up the Bulls' first regional championship in four trips to the postseason.
“It’s been a bit of a surprise, but as good as I thought we were going to be, we were way ahead,” Wilson said.