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Hot Bulldogs edge Lecanto

Bulldog freshman Chris Black set the tone early in Friday's 5-2 win in Class 4A, North Region IV, playing No. 2 singles versus Lecanto freshman Rushil Rao.

Playing as if he was double-parked, Black (8-1), the District 8 champion, needed just 36 minutes to tame 4A-7 champ Rao (14-4), 6-1, 6-0, to give host Zephyrhills an early lead.

Bulldog senior Josh Hinkle (8-2) followed with a convincing 6-3, 6-1 win at No. 4 singles over Lecanto senior Dave Tarnowski (13-5).

Panther fortunes took a turn for the worst when Bulldog senior Fernando Mantese (14-2) needed 1{ hours to topple Lecanto senior Tony Hamon (13-5), 6-1, 7-5 at No. 1.

Coach Laura Flanagan's Lecanto club (13-3), however, rallied back, capturing the No. 3 and No. 5 singles matches.

Panther freshman Naveen Reddy (15-3) toppled Bulldog junior Stephan Apel (13-3), 7-5, 6-3 while junior Vikram Reddy (15-1) edged freshman Chris Hinkle (7-4), 6-4, 7-5.

But coach Bill Linderman's Bulldogs (9-5) earned a team berth in next Wednesday's 4A State Championship at the Edgewood Tennis Courts in Lakeland as the No. 1 doubles squad of Mantese and Black (9-1) needed just 45 minutes to throttle Hamon and Naveen Reddy (14-2), 6-2, 6-1.

Apel and Josh Hinkle (6-1) closed the books on the nearly 3{-hour match, edging Tarnowski and Vikram Reddy (14-2), 7-5, 4-6, 7-4.

"I'm really proud of our boys," said Flanagan. "They've only seen this kind of tennis once before (a 7-0 loss to Gainesville Eastside). We figured we had to win the No. 1 singles to have any chance. And if Tony (Hamon) would've played a little better in that first set, I think he would've kept it closer. That was a tough one."

"He's real consistent," Hamon said of Mantese. "He always keeps his head in the game throughout the match. He basically didn't make mistakes that was the difference."

Mantese added, "He's (Hamon) really tough. He's a power guy. I struggled because he hits harder than I do. But today, I waited for his mistakes. And my second serve really did a job."

"Black set the tone," said Linderman. "But Mantese really came through. Overall, this is awesome. They're a great bunch. We have a 3.60 GPA in the classroom and they really compete on the courts. No coach could ask for a better group of kids."

3A-North IV:

Saddlebrook wins 6-1

The Saddlebrook boys won a spot at the state tournament, beating Mulberry 6-1, but were denied the sweep after a spunky effort at No. 1 doubles by Issac Hartman and Doug Bizerra, who won 7-5, 6-1 over Yasu Minoda and Shaun Kraft.

"For them it probably meant nothing," said Mulberry coach Steve McGahee. "'For our guys it was the highlight of their season."

Minoda did win at No. 1 singles, where he lost in the district finals, by outlasting Hartman 6-4, 3-6, 6-2.

_ JOHN C. COTEY

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