ALTAMONTE SPRINGS — With a tie for the Class 4A state team title on the line, the stage was set for Plant seniors Natalie Franklin and Claire-Mitchell Andrews in their No. 2 doubles match against Palmetto. And amid a hostile crowd featuring players from a few opposing teams cheering against Plant, sometimes absent FHSAA officiating during key points and a tougher-than-expected opponent, Franklin and Andrews fought back to take the match and a share of the team title, 4-6, 7-6 (7-4), 7-6 (7-4).
Ives Estates Dr. Krop, leading the cheers against Plant, had to settle for a tie after Plant won three points in doubles to clinch a share.
Franklin and Andrews defended their No. 2 doubles title from last year, which also sealed the state championship for Plant. Interestingly, though, the seniors weren't slated to play together until freshman Erica Oosterhout tore her ACL over the weekend. With Oosterhout, Plant's regular No. 4, out, Franklin slid up from her No. 5 spot and back into position as Andrews' partner.
"I wasn't expecting ever to be playing No. 4 in doubles," Franklin said, with a smile and a face full of tears. "It was really upsetting when I was No. 5, but I accepted it. And when I found out that I got the chance to play doubles. …"
"We just wanted to play together our senior year," Andrews finished for her.
The last-minute change also let Franklin defend her No. 4 singles title with a 5-7, 6-3, 6-0 win over Dr. Krop's Dominique Henry. Like last year, she was the only Plant player to win a singles title. But thanks to her nearly three-hour clinching match with Andrews and an earlier 6-0, 6-2 victory from No. 1 doubles pair Blair Martin and Gabby Rodriguez, Plant brought the state title trophy back to South Tampa for the second year in a row.
First-year coach Margaret Drumsta, Andrews and Franklin all agreed though: this year was more intense.
"I was nervous after that first set, but knowing how my girls play, I had hopes," Drumsta said. "Claire-Mitchell and Natalie, probably the goofiest, most fun pair of doubles out there, they know what it takes. As seniors, they knew what it takes to get it done. I just wish I didn't have so many gray hairs after it."
As winners of No. 1 team doubles, Martin and Rodriguez will play today against the winner of the individual No. 1 doubles bracket for the overall championship.
The Plant boys, some of whom stayed to cheer the girls, finished Tuesday when Tristan Kaye and Alec Josepher, the lone Panthers to play on the second day, lost their No. 1 doubles semifinal match to Westin Cypress Bay, 5-7, 4-6.
CLASS 2A: Jesuit's No. 1 doubles pair, juniors Jamie Sullivan and Jordan Nasser, battled back from 5-2 holes in both sets during their semifinal match at Red Bug Lake Park. But the Tigers couldn't complete the comeback, losing to Ponte Vedra's Casey Austgen and Jacob Davis 6-7 (3-7), 4-6.
About 30 minutes before Jesuit's season ended, Academy of the Holy Names finished up as well. Senior Sarah Port and eighth-grader Korina Hernandez-Zimring, the No. 2 doubles team, lost to Plantation American Heritage's Sofia Borcuti and Chiara Goodman 6-1 6-1.