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ALTAMONTE SPRINGS — The Plant girls arrived at Sanlando Park on Thursday morning for Day 2 of the Class 4A state team tennis tournament resigned to the fact that they were out of title contention.
Reality hit the Panthers quickly Wednesday with four of five first-round losses in singles. By Thursday, players had already texted friends about their disappointment. They stopped looking at the team standings. Their goal was to end up seventh out of eight teams.
But the Panthers, who began the morning in last place, won all five of their possible matches to complete a remarkable comeback and claim their second state team title in three seasons outright, edging Day 1 leader Sarasota Riverview 9-8.
“We weren’t just going to give up, but we thought we were completely shut out,” said Plant junior Natalie Franklin. “We got a second chance, and when it comes to tennis, you never get a second chance. Honestly, it feels like a dream right now.”
Each win was critical in the improbable comeback. And Franklin’s were the most clutch. A junior playing in her first state tournament, she won the No. 4 singles title with a 6-3, 6-0 win over Abigail Coates of Spruce Creek, which finished third with seven points.
Franklin and doubles teammate Claire Mitchell Andrews beat Spruce Creek again in the No. 2 doubles final 6-2, 7-6 (7-2) after trailing 5-4 in the second set. In the semifinals, the pair beat Sarasota Riverview in straight sets, preventing the Rams from picking up more points.
“I’m really just in shock,” Andrews said. “It feels so weird because I never thought this would happen after (Wednesday). (Wednesday) was so awful. I still don’t know how we did it.”
And Plant’s No. 1 doubles team of Blair Martin and Carol Marie Fraley survived a pair of three-set marathons to win that bracket, ending four-time defending state champ Dr. Krop’s bid in the semis with a 6-4, 1-6, 6-2 win. Then they knocked off top-seeded Nikita Uberoi and Veena Vazquez of Spanish River 6-0, 1-6, 6-4
“I don’t understand how we won,” said Fraley, the Panthers’ sole starting senior. “The math doesn’t make sense. I’m good at math, but I can’t figure it out at all. Every team that had to lose lost.”
Martin and Fraley will play for the overall doubles title Friday morning at 8 at Sanlando Park.
Class 2A: Steinbrenner’s doubles team of Grace Korta and Kaleigh Wagner lost its quarterfinal to top-seeded Lindsay Graff and Stephanie Taylor of Fort Lauderdale Pine Crest 6-1, 6-1.