ALTAMONTE SPRINGS — Wharton senior Ben Hwang was neither the most imposing player nor the hardest hitter in this year’s Class 4A team finals No. 1 singles draw. But it would be hard to argue he wasn’t the most resilient.
The Johns Hopkins-bound Hwang has patiently waited for his time in the spotlight, playing in the Wildcats’ No. 2 slot the past two years behind back-to-back state overall champion Mike Alford. And Thursday morning’s early focus was on Hwang’s final against Miami Palmetto’s Jovan Parlic, a 6-foot-3 Serbia native with a powerful serve.
Hwang overcame four set points in the first set to beat Parlic 7-5, 6-3, to claim the team No. 1 title. He faces Lake Vista’s Gaston Murray for the overall title Friday morning.
Hwang battled from the brink. He was down 5-4 and 40-0, but came back to break Parlic’s serve, then won the next two games to take the set.
“It was pretty big coming back from that,” Hwang said. “Coming into the match, I was really focusing on my return.”
“The guy was like 2 feet taller than me,” he added with a smile.
Hwang’s endurance paid off against Parlic — just as it did in his previous two singles matches on Wednesday. Hwang won his first match in three sets, 7-6 (7-5), 0-6, 6-2, after his opponent began cramping, and his semifinal opponent retired in the third set, 2-6, 6-4, 2-2 with cramps.
“My dad told me today to try to get the court with the most sun,” Hwang said.
And Thursday was about the Wharton senior stepping out of the shadows. While the Wildcats fell short of their fourth straight team title, Hwang maintained Wharton’s dominance of the No. 1 singles bracket.
“It feels good” Hwang said. “It shows other people that we weren’t being carried by Mike last year and the year before. We have depth everywhere. Being No. 1, there’s a lot of responsibility and a lot of pressure everywhere.”
Class 2A: Jesuit sophomore Jordan Nasser, the Tigers’ only remaining Day 2 competitor in the team tournament field, dropped the No. 2 singles championship match 6-2, 6-0 to Miami Gulliver Prep’s Baker Newman, who was the draw’s top seed.