By Andy Warrener
The Laker/Lutz News Correspondent
The Wharton boys tennis team had to settle for district runner-up status last year to Plant, but the Wildcats got a measure of revenge April 2 at Hunter’s Green Golf and County Club.
Wharton totaled 13 points, besting the Panthers by one for the Class 4A-District 6 championship thanks in large part to Wildcats claiming the top three singles titles.
Wildcats junior Alex Crnogorac bested Alonso’s Austin Buck for the No. 2 singles titles, but needed 22 games in the third set to do so, winning 6-2, 3-6, 12-10. Crnogorac recorded three big forehands to cap the match.
“The most important thing for me was to stay calm after letting two match points slip away,” Crnogorac said. “I kept my forehand in and didn’t mess up. It was just what I needed at the time.”
Sophomore Thomas Hwang won the No. 3 singles final 7-6, 3-6, 10-4 over Plant’s Thomas Harmon, while Wharton ace Sam Chaffin toppled the Panthers’ Alec Josepher in another marathon match 7-6 (8-6), 5-7, 10-8.
Chaffin and Josepher are training partners at Brandon Sports and Aquatic Center and have a level of familiarity that made for long points and an even longer match.
Chaffin’s first serve started to break down in the second set after coming out to a 3-1 lead. Josepher’s passing shots kept Chaffin from approaching the net, which helped even the match, but Chaffin fought through to take the third and earn an individual spot at the state tournament.
“I was tired, my hand was cramping, so I had to push it a little,” Chaffin said. “I was still able to crank my forehand though.”
First-year Wildcats tennis coach Scott Ware pointed to the tightness of the final point total to show how tough 4A-6 is.
“The competition in this district is crazy,” Ware said. “Four of the five finals we were in went to third-set tiebreakers.”
The Wildcats girls advanced as well, earning runner-up status with 11 points, 10 off Plant’s championship pace. Wharton sent players to the Nos. 1, 2 and 5 singles finals, but fell to the Panthers at all three spots.
Wharton sophomore Andrea Valencial and junior Kylie Paul, the squad’s Nos. 1 and 2 players, also advanced to the top doubles final, but again were bested by Plant.
Wildcat’s coach Lori Miles was pleased with her squad’s performance.
“Andrea has been consistent hitting the ball back, and Kylie has been tough at the net,” Miles said. “They won a lot of matches for us in the regular season.”
The Wharton boys host Plant City April 9, while the girls travel to Newsome for the regional semifinals. Both matches start at 3 p.m.
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