WESLEY CHAPEL — On a balmy Thursday afternoon, Wiregrass Ranch looked to avenge last year’s region loss to visiting Wharton.
The Bulls struck early, taking Nos. 4 and 5 singles in straight sets, then eventually winning Nos. 1 and 2 to get the magic number to move on to state.
Wharton junior Alek Crnogorac fell 6-1, 6-4 to freshman Agustin Moreno at No. 2 singles, then the Bulls needed just one more singles win to lock up a state berth.
“I tried to hit it to his backhand because I know (Crnogorac) hits lots of winners,” Moreno said. “The key was not to get discouraged and play the next point.”
With sophomore Thomas Hwang and Niels van Dam going to a tiebreaker in the second set, then a long third, all eyes fell to No. 1 singles for the outcome.
Wharton junior Sam Chaffin and Courage Okungbowa slugged it out in the marquee matchup. Chaffin took the first set 6-2 — the first set Okungbowa has lost all season — but the senior hung on despite Chaffin’s blistering forehand and powerful serves.
“Sam has a big serve and my serves were off today so I just tried to stay focused and hoped he missed that first serve,” Okungbowa said. “I was thinking just trying to get it in.”
Okungbowa kept hanging on, taking the second set 2-6. Then Okungbowa’s endurance came into play. Neither player could hold serve in the final set, and Chaffin’s fatigue started to show. There were five service breaks in the nine-game set. Okungbowa finally held serve, then broke Chaffin to take a 5-3 lead as clouds moved in and a light rain fell.
Murmurs of postponing the match circulated as Okungbowa went up 40-15. The No. 3 match stopped to watch Okungbowa and Chaffin. On the next point, Chaffin charged the net and stabbed three baseline shots from Okungbowa back over the net. Then
Okungbowa creamed one past Chaffin for match point. An instant later a massive deluge came down and athletes, coaches and spectators raced for cover.
Okungbowa’s win sends Wiregrass Ranch to its second state tournament.
Pirates falter, still leave good impression
The Pasco boys came up short against powerhouse Gainesville Eastside in a Class 2A region final for the second straight year.
The two-time district champion Pirates lost 5-1 Thursday in a match delayed three hours by rain.
Austin Riddaugh made a strong impression in defeat, a 6-2, 4-6, 6-4 loss to nationally ranked freshman Hyunsoo Joo at No. 1 singles.
“It was an incredible match,” Pasco coach Mickey Wilks said. “It probably lasted three hours and their coach invited (Riddaugh) to play in a FHSTCA tournament.”
That Florida High School Tennis Coaches Association tourney, featuring the state’s top 64 male and female seniors, is scheduled for April 27-28 at Embry-Riddle College in Daytona Beach.
Josh Morris, Alex Mitchell, Christian Yann and Will Waselewski also lost their singles matches before the Pirates picked up their lone win. Mitchell and Yann won at No. 2 doubles, 6-3, 2-6, 7-5 over Samuel Cockey and Derek Li.
Steve Lee, Times correspondent