DADE CITY - Since losing to Madison Johnson in the No. 1 singles finals of last year's district tournament, Hernando sophomore Grace Curren had defeated the Pasco senior twice this season before their marquee matchup on Thursday in the Class 2A, Region IV final.
Curren, the 2013 Hernando Today Player of the Year, outlasted Johnson in a 6-4, 5-7, 6-2 thriller, but the Lady Leopards still fell to the Lady Pirates, 5-2.
"I'm very proud of this group. They showed me that if they wanted something, they could put their mind to it and make it happen," first year Hernando head coach Connie Foster said. "The way that this team adopted me into the family that they already had was special. We've grown a lot throughout the year, even since the district tournament."
Johnson, one of the winningest players in Pasco (17-3) history, fell to 17-4 on the season. Curren, who has already qualified for the 2A state singles tournament at Sylvan Park in Sanford next week, won her 12th straight match and improved to 17-1 on the year.
In No. 5 singles, Hernando (9-6) freshman Amber Haisley (11-6) dispatched Ashlynn Rainaldi (16-4) in an intense three-set bout, 6-1, 5-7, 6-4, but Pasco won the other three singles matches in straight sets to take a 3-2 lead into doubles play.
After dropping the first set, the No. 2 doubles pair of Lida-Marie Steinkamp and Shelby Smith (9-8) jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the second set against seniors Sara Slayton and Amanda Dee, but they failed to capitalize.
Pasco head coach Don Charlick gave his duo a pep talk just before it turned the second set around.
"I told them that this was it," Charlick said. "This was for everything they worked so hard all year for. This was our chance to be one of the elite eight, to advance to the state tournament, so let's do this."
Slayton and Dee (14-2) won the next six games to take the set, the match and the regional title.
"Pasco is a really good team," Foster remarked of the four-time defending district champions. "But I look forward to getting another chance against them next year."
With darkness falling, and the day's victor already determined, the conclusion of the No. 1 doubles match was moved to St. Leo University.
Johnson and Shelbie Timlake (14-1) survived, taking a 4-6, 6-2, 10-7 win over Curren and Jada Bergstrom (12-6), with the third set being a tiebreaker, to give the Lady Pirates their winning margin.
"This experience is a huge confidence-booster for the girls that will be returning. They're really fired up after getting this far," Foster said. "Being this close to states makes today difficult, but the girls have already told me that they plan on making it next year."
Pasco 5, Hernando 2
No. 1 - Grace Curren (HER) def. Madison Johnson, 6-4, 5-7, 6-2.
No. 2 - Shelbie Timlake (PAS) def. Jada Bergstrom, 6-2, 6-3.
No. 3 - Amanda Dee (PAS) def. Lida-Marie Steinkamp, 6-1, 6-4.
No. 4 - Sara Slayton (PAS) def. Shelby Smith, 6-1, 6-3.
No. 5 - Amber Haisley (HER) def. Ashlynn Rainaldi, 6-1, 5-7, 6-4.
No. 1 - Johnson/Timlake (PAS) def. Curren/Bergstrom, 4-6, 6-2, 10-7.
No. 2 - Dee/Slayton (PAS) def. Steinkamp/Smith, 6-0, 6-3.
Records - Hernando (9-6), Pasco (17-3).