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King girls tie for Class 5A lead

King and Seminole used to battle it out in girls tennis every year for the right to go to the state tennis tournament in Class 6A. They couldn't both advance.

Now that Seminole has moved to 5A and promptly won the state title this week in Lakeland, there is a chance for each to win a state title.

King's girls have 10 points after Thursday's round, which is good for a first-place tie with Boca Raton Olympic Heights. Miami Sunset is within striking distance with eight points

"We're in really good shape," King coach Carol Pressick said. "We are sitting on three singles championships and we're in great position. They're playing at the top of their games."

King, which is at state for the first time, had a tough route to state despite the absence of Seminole. The Lions had to fight off a tough East Lake team in districts and perennial powerhouse Naples Barron Collier in its regional.

The Lions have been especially solid in the bottom of their singles orderwith all three of their players advancing to the finals. No. 3 singles player Brooke Leitch knocked off Bloomingdale's Kyley Foster 6-1, 6-3 and then defeated Orlando Boone's Jennifer Latham 6-2, 6-0 in the semifinals to advance to today's final against Olympic Heights' Ilene Marcus.

No. 4 player Caroline Tien came into her singles competition with the top seed in her division, and she showed why, knocking off North Miami's Olga Raskina 6-1, 6-0 and Cooper City's Kavita Gahndi 6-3, 6-1. She will face off against Niceville's Christina Leavenworth today in the final. No. 5 player Lauren Keller will round out the order, after defeating Boone's Nicole Hemkes 6-3, 6-2 and Olympic Heights' Krystal Garzon 6-2, 6-3 to advance to today's final against Sunset's Adriana Becerra.

The No. 1 doubles team of Tiffany Pinciotti and Leitch and the No. 2 doubles team of Keller and Marie Kennett also advanced to today's doubles semifinals for King.

Bloomingdale's girls also made their first trip to state Thursday. Coach Dave Jones' team managed to pick up a point when Alicia Wiley defeated Alison Rasgado of Cooper City in the No. 5 singles quarterfinals, 6-3, 6-2. Wiley was eliminated one round later by Sunset's Becerra 6-0, 6-1.

In the 6A preliminaries of the individuals state tournament held down the road from the Southwest Rec Center at Westside Park, Tampa Bay Tech's Brandon Wagner beat East Lake's Tai Lam 6-4, 6-0 in the individual boys quarterfinals.

Lam won by default over Miami Springs' Melvin Zantua, who opted to skip the tourney in order to attend his school prom.

Wagner will play in today's semifinals against Ryan Mauck of Bradenton Southeast.

4A: Jesuit battles, but

loses to Cardinal Gibbons

LAKELAND _ Pressure became a welcome visitor in the middle of Jesuit senior Andrew Laflin's No. 1 singles final.

"When coach (Joe Curtis) told me Taylor (Ralph) won his match, I was thinking that I had to get it done," Laflin said.

Ralph's win at No. 3 meant that if Laflin won, the Tigers could tie Fort Lauderdale Cardinal Gibbons with a pair of doubles victories later in the day.

Laflin beat Cardinal Gibbons' Alex Hur 6-2, 6-3, pulling Jesuit to within two points. The Tigers went on to lose the head-to-head showdown in doubles, but unlike in the past, Cardinal Gibbons didn't just cruise to a title.

"We definitely made it interesting," said Curtis, whose team was a distant second last year. "We were right in the position that we wanted to be in."

Cardinal Gibbons wound up in a familiar position, winning its fourth consecutive state championship. But this one was tougher than the others.

"I was nervous to tell you the truth," Cardinal Gibbons coach Jo Cabana said. "But we like a challenge. We had a tough schedule to prepare us in case something like this happened."

Laflin, a three-time state runner-up, handled the pressure like the veteran he is. He plays individual tournament winner Kent Ball of Royal Palm Beach this morning to determine the 4A state singles champion.

Ralph, a freshman, defeated Cardinal Gibbons' Milan Djeric 6-2, 6-4 in the No. 3 final. Ralph and Laflin lost a hard-fought three-setter in the No. 1 doubles final, while the No. 2 team of Sebring Sierra and Richard Sola fell in two sets.