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State tennis: Wiregrass pair bow out in singles championships

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Tue. April 17, 2012 | Matt Baker | Email

Wiregrass Ranch's Courage OkungbowaWiregrass Ranch's Star Makarome

ALTAMONTE SPRINGS — A day that began with hopes of Pasco County’s first individual champions since 2002 ended in two runnerup finishes by Wiregrass Ranch on Tuesday.

Bulls junior Courage Okungbowa lost his Class 4A boys final to Olympia’s Sebastian Beltrame 6-1, 6-3. Freshman Star Makarome knocked off the 4A girls’ top seed in the semis but settled for second place after a straight sets loss to Everglades’ Gabriella Castaneda.

“You can’t ask for much more,” boys coach Dave Wilson said.

The normally steady Okungbowa made uncharacteristic mistakes in one of the biggest matches of his career. He double-faulted in his first game. He smacked forehands into the net. Balls that normally kissed the lines missed. Volleys that normally drop in sailed long.

Beltrame, one of the country’s top juniors, broke him in the first game.

“He did force a lot of errors,” said Okungbowa, who was undefeated and had dropped only one set heading into Tuesday.

The towering Beltrame used a strong serve and powerful ground strokes to win the next four games, seize the first set and take a 3-0 lead in the second. Okungbowa, weary from three long matches Monday and a tight shoulder, rallied to cut the deficit to 5-3.

But his comeback bid ended moments later when his final volley blew past the baseline.

Three hours later and a few courts away at Sanlando Park, Makarome’s title hopes sank when her last shot slammed into the net.

Makarome became the county’s first girl to reach the finals since 2001 after upsetting top seed Sonja Radosevic of Coral Gables, 6-1, 6-3 in Tuesday morning’s semis.  But the unseeded Makarome, who lost only three games all season heading into the state tournament, met her match in third-seeded Castaneda.

“Coming in, I knew I had my work cut out for me,” Makarome said.

Castaneda hugged the baseline and kept Makarome on defense. She stole the first three games and took the first set 6-1 — the first set Makarome lost all season.

“It set me back on my game, because usually that’s what I do to other people,” Makarome said.

Makarome recovered and attacked more in the second set. A gorgeous drop shot helped her win two games in a row and take a 4-3 lead.

But Castaneda cruised to the next three games to keep Pasco County from winning its first individual girls singles title.

Moments later, Castaneda took a Wiregrass parent’s camera and snapped photos of Okungbowa, Makarome and their coaches posing in front of a state tournament banner to celebrate one of the biggest days in a blossoming program.

The boys have advanced to regionals in five of their six seasons. The girls just claimed their first district title. Both will have returning state runnerups next spring along with young cores and strong freshman classes.

The 14-year-old Makarome has sky-high potential, despite being young enough to keep a tan teddy bear poking out of her tennis bag. Okungbowa improved on his first-round exit last season to become the county’s first boys runnerup since 2005.

“I hope I’m able to get a title,” Okungbowa said. “I’ve got one more chance.”

And the Bulls might have plenty more after that.

Matt Baker can be reached at mbaker@tampabay.com.

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