SPRING HILL For the first time since 2008, the Lecanto Lady Panthers advanced to a regional final Tuesday evening after disposing of host Springstead at Delta Woods Park, 4-2.
The Class 3A, District 5 runner-up Lady Panthers (11-2) needed just over 3½ hours to solve the 3A-6 champion Springstead Lady Eagles (13-4) in a 3A-Region III semifinal.
With the win, Lecanto journeys Thursday to Marion County to tangle in a rematch with 3A-5 champion Ocala-Forest.
Forest needed less than two hours to blank 3A-6 runner-up Land O’ Lakes, 4-0, to advance to the 3A-III final.
Seventh-year Lecanto mentor Sammie Hall took Tuesday’s regional win – their first since solving Nature Coast at Delta Woods Park in 2008 – in stride.
“It was an awesome win,” described Coach Hall. “Our girls knew what they had to do; they played well.”
The Lady Panthers had previously snapped Springstead’s 10-match winning streak in Citrus County on March 21, 5-2.
“Springstead is a worthy opponent; they’ve got a great group of kids,” said Hall. “There were no surprises today.”
From the home sideline, Springstead’s first-year mentor Rick Scholl was disappointed only in the final results, not in how his team battled the heavily favored Lady Panthers.
“Our girls played well,” indicated Coach Scholl. “We were ready for this match physically and mentally. We had two good practices leading up. If our No. 2 doubles team had finished, I think we would have lost, 4-3. That’s nothing to scoff at.”
On the difference on Tuesday, “Their No. 1-2 players are incredible and so is their No. 1 doubles. That’s three points that are almost automatic every time the Gamble girls play,” noted Scholl.
“Our girls gave whatever they had – that’s all I asked from them,” added Scholl. “I still feel pretty good about our future. My ‘Fab Five’ has four sophomores and a junior and they’re all back next year.”
Looking back, “We had a great, great season,” pointed out Scholl. “I have no regrets from this team. We started out a little iffy dropping a couple of early 4-3 matches, before we won 10 matches in a row. Overall, I can’t wait till next year.”
Lady Panther senior Amber Gamble (12-1) set the match’s tone by stomping Springstead sophomore Bryn Buckner (6-11) at No. 1, 6-1, 6-2. In the previous meeting, Gamble had handled Buckner, 6-1, 6-2.
At No. 2 singles Lecanto sophomore Madison Gamble (12-1) followed by solving Lady Eagle sophomore Scarlett Semack (15-4), 6-1, 6-2. Madison had previously blanked Semack, 6-0, 6-0.
Sophomore Simi Shah (10-2) turned back Lady Eagles sophomore Sara Guerrero (10-6) at No. 3 singles, 7-6 (7-2), 6-4.
Down 3-0, Springstead rallied behind its two undefeated netters.
At No. 4 singles, junior Robyn Cotney (18-0) completed her unbeaten season by stuffing Megan Jervis (8-4) for the second time this season, 6-1, 6-2.
“I thought I played pretty well,” explained the 17-year-old Cotney, despite playing with a heavily bandaged left calf muscle. “It’s still bothering me from districts.”
On the difference, “I though Megan (Jervis) played really well,” described Cotney. “It was a lot of fun playing her. The key for me is always consistency. That was no different today.”
At No. 5 singles, Springstead sophomore Ashley Clark (11-0) bopped Lady Panther junior Andrea DelaCruz (3-2), 6-3, 6-1.
“I was exhausted after only four hours of sleep yesterday,” explained the 16-year-old Clark. “I’m in IB (International Baccalaureate program). I spend most of my time at home doing homework.”
On playing DelaCruz, “She reminds so much of playing against (Central freshman Vanessa) Valencia,” said Clark. “I kind of outlasted her. It was a fun match.
“What I liked most? It keeps me still undefeated,” smiled Clark. “Last year, I didn’t do anything in tennis. I feel like I’ve gotten so much better. I just want to keep this going.”
Lecanto clinched the match as Amber and Madison Gamble (11-2) swept Buckner/Guerrero (7-7), 6-2, 6-2.
“This was an awesome win,” shared the 18-year-old Amber Gamble. “I was hoping everyone would win. We all really wanted to win bad to face Forest again.”
Lecanto 4, Springstead 2
No. 1 – Amber Gamble (LEC) def. Bryn Buckner, 6-1, 6-2.
No. 2 – Madison Gamble (LEC) def. Scarlett Semack, 6-1, 6-2.
No. 3 – Simi Shah (LEC) def. Sara Guererro, 7-6 (7-2), 6-4.
No. 4 – Robyn Cotney (SPG) def. Megan Jervis, 6-1, 6-2.
No. 5 – Ashley Clark (SPG) def. Andrea DelaCruz, 6-3, 6-1.
No. 1 – A. Gamble/M. Gamble (LEC) def. Buckner/Guerrero, 6-2, 6-2.
No. 2 – DNF.
Records – Lecanto (11-2), Springstead (13-4).