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TAMPA — For the first time, the Plant boys and girls teams will advance to the state tournament. And it took a three-hour, 22-minute match Thursday to make it official.
Tristan Kaye (6-2, 6-4), David Chittenden (6-1, 6-4) and Max Kramer (6-0, 6-4) won in straight sets for the Panthers while Wharton’s No. 3, senior Marcel Betancourt, took his match 6-4, 6-0. That just left the No. 2 position.
After dropping the first set 6-7, Panthers sophomore Alec Josepher forced a tiebreaker with his Wharton counterpart, Alek Crnogorac. Crnogorac erased a 5-0 disadvantage to tie it at 5-all. Ultimately it was Josepher who prevailed 13-11 to force a third set.
“I knew if I lost that I’d have to play doubles,” he said. “And I wanted to be done.”
Josepher completed the comeback and even fired his first ace of the day on the penultimate point for the 6-7, 7-6 (13-11), 6-4 victory. It sealed the boys’ first trip to states since 2005.
On the other side of the Cal Dixon Tennis Center, the defending state champion Plant girls took the first four singles matches from Wharton to ensure that they would defend their title. Blair Martin (6-0, 7-5), Gabby Rodriguez (6-4, 6-0), Claire-Mitchell Andrews (6-0, 6-0) and Natalie Franklin (3-6, 6-1, 6-0) came away with victories.
All coach Margaret Drumsta had to focus on was keeping her players loose, including Martin, who trailed 5-3 in her second set. Drumsta gave her a pep talk when she was trailing 5-4.
“If you’re not having fun, you’re going to be tense,” Drumsta said. “And if you’re tense, you’re not going to hit.”
Class 3A: King has swept all five singles positions since postseason play started, and Thursday was no different as Kiril Kirkov, Victor Ke, Chiran Witanachchi, Gregory Smith and Hengyi Wu won matches against Lakeland George Jenkins to send the Lions to the state tournament for the first time in coach Peter Adler’s four years at the helm.
“It’s been a while,” Adler said of King’s last appearance at states. “It’s a real privilege to get to take these guys.”
Class 2A: Jesuit swept district foe Robinson 4-0 to advance to the state tournament for the 17th time in coach Joe Curtis’ 18-year tenure. Jamie Sullivan, David Pagliarulo and Palmer Evans took their matches 6-0, 6-0 and Jordan Nasser won in straight sets as well, 6-2, 6-1.
• In about an hour’s time, Holy Names took the first four singles matches from Auburndale to clinch its third straight trip to the state tournament.
Class A: While heading to his team’s victory party at a neighborhood Sweet Tomatoes, Carrollwood Day girls coach John Most took a right at improbability and left at surreality. A region championship trophy, the first won by any Patriots team, served as his passenger.
“It’s too good to be true,” Most said. “It really is.”
In their fourth season, the Patriots (14-1) earned their first team state tournament berth with a 5-2 triumph against Tampa Prep in the Class A region title dual match.
The sibling singles punch of Jackie and Lauren Fitz-Randolph prevailed at the Nos. 1 and 2 spots, respectively. No. 3 player Sarah Yaffe also won.
The Fitz-Randolph sisters won at No. 1 doubles, while Yaffe teamed with Maddie Peek — whom Most said approached CDS athletic director Frank Mabry three years ago with the idea of starting a team — to win at No. 2.
• At Hillsborough Community College, Tampa Prep (12-5) stretched its state tournament hopes to the final doubles match of the day before falling to Winter Haven’s All Saints’ Academy 4-3 in the region finals.
The visitors clinched things at No. 1 doubles, shortly after the Terrapins’ No. 2 team of Alan Williams and Wes Merritt won its match. Williams (No. 4) and Ralph Grauer (No. 5) won singles matches for Tampa Prep.
Staff writer Joey Knight contributed to this report.