SARASOTA — The odds were stacked against the St. Petersburg Catholic girls team advancing to its fourth straight state tournament.
The Barons were playing their toughest opponent in two seasons — save for a regular-season match this year against Sarasota Riverview — in Out-of-Door Academy.
SPC senior Alyssa Bellini withdrew midway through her match at No. 2 singles after rolling her right ankle and was unavailable for the No. 2 doubles team. The Barons' No. 1, Julia Jones, was suffering from tonsillitis. Yet the Barons remained unrattled.
Buoyed by its depth, SPC won three of five singles matches. No. 5 singles player Molly Smith slid into Bellini's position at No. 2 doubles, and the Barons captured both doubles points to keep their hopes alive for the school's first state title in a 5-2 region final victory.
"It was a really good match, a really competitive match," SPC coach Brett Hayman said. "And it came down to the doubles. First time in a long time it's come down to the doubles for us."
The Barons' Jerica Coley lost the first game but won the rest to overmatch Michelle Ramos at No. 3 singles.
Danielle Nickerson staved off four set points in the first set before winning in a tiebreak. She was a 7-6 (8-6), 6-1 winner at No. 4. Smith held on at No. 5 for a straight-sets win over Savannah Sleight 6-3, 7-5.
Needing just one of two doubles matches to advance, the Barons won both. Coley teamed with Jones to defeat Caroline Dailey and Ramos 6-3, 6-4 to clinch for the Barons. The win was especially sweet for Jones, who rebounded from a 7-5, 7-6 (8-6) loss — her first of the season — at No. 1 singles to Dailey.
Nickerson and Smith took the No. 2 doubles point 7-6 (7-5), 6-4.
"(Thursday), really, either team could have won it," Hayman said. "I think we had the edge on experience, though."
3A girls: Gibbs steady
It seemed somehow fitting that on this piecemeal five-person Gibbs team that the shot that clinched the program's first trip to the state tournament was delivered by a Czech Republic exchange student who didn't even know the rules of the tiebreaker she had just won.
But it wasn't just the play of lefty Lucie Petrova at No. 3 singles that helped make history in Gibbs' 4-1 win over King in the Class 3A region in Temple Terrace.
It was a precise and near-perfect performance by No. 1 Akilah James, who barely broke a sweat in a 6-0, 6-0 win.
It was No. 2 Lindsay Hodgdon, who rallied from 4-1 down to win a first set tiebreaker and a crucial 7-6 (7-2), 6-2 victory.
It was No. 5 Masani Bailey, a consistent and steady four-year starter who won 6-4, 6-4.
And there was Petrova, who beat King's Amber Mirajkar 6-1, 7-6 (7-2), handing the Lion her first loss of the season.
"I had a good feeling about this all day," coach Bonita Holmes said. "I don't know what it was, I just did. I'm just ecstatic."
A boys: Shorecrest in
Shorecrest will play in its third state final in a row after outlasting host Cardinal Mooney 4-3.
The Class A, Region 5 final came down to No. 2 doubles, where Nick Litsky and Frank Rodriguez won 6-2, 6-0.
"Frank stepped up as a senior and really came through for us (Thursday)," Shorecrest coach Woody Every said. "And Nick played phenomenally."
4A girls: Devils routed
St. Petersburg couldn't handle Plant, which won 8-0. The Panthers' hardest match came at No. 1 singles, where Amber Li beat Emily Dvorak 6-3, 4-6 (10-8).
"Plant's a great team with a solid reputation," St. Petersburg coach Todd St. Louis said. "That might have got into our heads a little bit, but we stayed with them for a while."
Times staff writers Bob Putnam and John C. Cotey contributed to this report.