Area tennis aficionados were treated to a well-played and balanced matchup Tuesday at Delta Woods Park.
The Class 3A, District 5 runner-up Ocala-Forest Wildcats needed 5:09 to stave off 3A-6 champion and host Springstead, 4-3.
Earlier in the afternoon, the defending 3A-III regional champion Gainesville Hurricanes made short work of the 3A-6 runner-up, New Port Richey-Mitchell, winning easily, 7-0.
On Thursday, the Wildcats (13-1) will tangle with the stacked Gainesville netters for the 3A-III crown in Alachua County.
Fourth-year Wildcat mentor David Falcone savored the win only after the No. 2 doubles team of junior Nick Wigelsworth and senior Tanner Weaver (13-2) edged Springstead’s duo of junior Hank Deslaurier and sophomore Robert Hoover (13-4), 6-4, 2-6, 7-5.
“The difference in the match was (Philip) Libby’s win at No. 1 singles,” explained Coach Falcone. “He needed that after a bad match at districts. He had something to prove.”
On where the ’Cats go from here, “This is the furthest we’ve ever gone,” noted Falcone. “Coming in, we accomplished all our team goals: winning the county, the conference and finishing second to Gainesville at districts.
“Winning today against Springstead is a bonus. Now we get to play Gainesville again,” pointed out Coach Falcone. “No matter what happens, we’ve had a great year. I’m real proud of these kids. Come Thursday, anything can happen.”
The Marion County crew led 3-2 after five singles bouts.
After Libby (11-3) upset Patrick Deslaurier (13-4), 6-2, 2-6, 7-5, Springstead responded with back-to-back wins by No. 2-3 singles players.
At No. 2 singles, Eagle senior Carl Zee (14-4) swept Wigelsworth (7-7), 6-3, 6-1.
“He (Wigelsworth) was definitely a good player,” described the 18-year-old Zee. “I hit a lot of good ground strokes. It was very similar to how I played against (Land O’ Lakes’ Chris) Mo in districts. I had to get him moving around. My (left) shoulder was a little tight yesterday, but it felt fine today.”
Springstead took its only lead when Hank Deslaurier (16-2) captured his eighth straight match by sweeping sophomore Palmer Lovell (10-4), 7-6 (7-4), 6-2.
Deslaurier hasn’t dropped a match since Wiregrass Ranch’s Niels Van Dam tattooed him on March 11, 6-1, 6-0.
“He (Lovell) was pretty good,” said the 17-year-old Deslaurier. “He was really good at digging shots out. He had me running from the top of the net to the baseline.”
On the key to the match, “It boiled down to my ability to track shots down,” shared Deslaurier. “He had me running, but I got to them.”
Forest regained the lead as junior Mark Debolt (15-1) topped Hoover (13-5) at No. 4 singles, 6-4, 6-4, while before junior Grant Lovell (11-1) trimmed Eagle senior Marcel Leaman at No. 5 singles, 6-4, 6-2.
Springstead eventually tied the match as Patrick Deslaurier/Zee (14-2) gutted out a three-set thriller over Libby/Grant Lovell (9-5), 2-6, 7-6 (8-6), 6-2.
Patrick Deslaurier initially downplayed the circumstances of tying the regional match at 3-all.
“We looked at this as another match,” pointed out the 16-year-old Deslaurier. “Just like at districts, the key was our consistency. We had to keep the ball in play. Forest was easily the best team we’ve played all year. After a win like this I think we can take it all (during the 3A FHSAA Finals next week in Seminole County).”
Second-year Eagle mentor Joe Nicolai, who was seeking his first regional win in nine years – or since his days as Central High’s girls skipper, did not bemoan the final results.
“Our guys played their hearts out,” noted Nicolai. “Forest is a very good team. To me, next to Wiregrass Ranch, they were the best team we played all year. I thought it was an evenly matched game.”
Though Springstead fell, “It would have been nice to go to Gainesville and play the best,” said Nicolai. “But this team has gone further than any previous Springstead team. None of these kids have anything to be ashamed of today.
“I just wish we would have won one more game in singles; but it just wasn’t meant to be.”
Ocala-Forest 4, Springstead 3
No. 1 – Philip Libby (OF) def. Patrick Deslaurier, 6-2, 2-6, 7-5.
No. 2 – Carl Zee (SPG) def. Nick Wigelsworth, 6-3, 6-1.
No. 3 – Hank Deslaurier (SPG) def. Palmer Lovell, 7-6 (7-4), 6-2.
No. 4 – Mark Debolt (OF) def. Robert Hoover, 6-4, 6-4.
No. 5 – Grant Lovell (OF) def. def. Marcel Leaman, 6-4, 6-2.
No. 1 – P. Deslaurier/Zee (SPG) def. Libby/G. Lovell, 2-6, 7-6 (8-6), 6-2.
No. 2 – Wigelsworth/Tanner Weaver (OF) def. H. Deslaurier/Hoover, 6-4, 2-6, 7-5.
Records – Ocala-Forest (13-1), Springstead (13-3).