TEMPLE TERRACE — King singles player Rohit Chari had not planned to play in the Lions’ Class 3A region semifinal match against Bartow at the Whiteway Tennis Facility on Tuesday.
But, when the match was pushed back to Wednesday because of rain, Chari was thrust into the lineup because Vignesh Bhethanabotla, King’s top player, was absent due to a science fair.
Chari made the most of his opportunity, winning his No. 5 singles match against Bartow’s Matt Murphy 6-1, 7-5 and then teaming with Greg Smith at No. 1 doubles to hold off Youlei Li and Kevin Craig 6-3, 7-6 (7-4) and clinch the overall match victory for King 5-2.
“Whenever your best player is gone, everybody else has to step up,” said Chari, a sophomore.
Smith, playing at No. 1 singles, coasted by Li 6-0, 6-1, and King No. 2 Nick Miljus won 6-4, 6-2 over Kevin Craig to give the Lions three of the five singles matches.
Needing just one doubles victory to advance, King’s Smith and Chari won their first set. But the pair found themselves trailing 5-2 in the second, and needed a rally to force a tiebreaker and prevent a third set.
“We told ourselves that we needed to slow down, play more efficient and quit committing so many unforced errors,” Chari said. “Once we did that, we were able to come back.”
Nick Miljus and Sam Strickland defeated Bartow’s Jay Khatari and Matt Murphy 7-5, 6-1 to claim both doubles points for King.
King’s girls team will join their male counterparts in today’s region finals after defeating Bartow 4-2. The Lions’ top three singles players all won.
Sneha Sathish, King’s No. 1 singles player, defeated Bartow’s Thinzar Zaw 6-4, 6-3, and Kathy Tian (No. 2) was a 6-2, 6-3 winner over Linda Guan, and Simone Nicolas (No. 3) dispatched Samantha Kunin 6-4, 6-1.
“King hasn’t gone to state in a while,” Sathish said. “We’re definitely hoping to go as a team.”
Sathish and Tian paired at No. 1 doubles to defeat Zaw and Guan 6-3, 6-0 and wrap up the victory.
Margaret Sands (No. 4) defeated Christina Jayaraj 6-3, 6-2, and Joanna Sands (No. 5) beat Sheela Ranganathan 6-0, 6-1 for Bartow’s two wins.
Class 3A boys: Hillsborough fell just short against Lakeland, losing 4-3, with one match decided by injury.
The teams split two singles and two doubles matches, then Lakeland’s Charlie Gardner and Hillsborough’s Ben Muschol split the first two sets at No. 3 singles. Muschol broke Gardner to win the first game of the deciding set but suffered leg cramps in the second game and had to retire.
Hillsborough coach Leslie Kennard said her team was disappointed. “Unfortunately, his body just gave out,” she said. “But I’m proud of all of them. They worked incredibly hard.”
Meanwhile, Freedom went on the road and lost 4-1 to Venice.
Class 3A girls: Host Lakeland swept out Brandon 5-0. The Eagles only won three games.
Information from the Lakeland Ledger and Sarasota Herald-Tribune was used in this report.