After freshman Brandon Fallon's third consecutive singles victory, Dana Hills was one point short of advancing to the Division I boys' tennis finals for the first time in four years.
Although they led all but one of the remaining matches, the Dolphins remained a point away from clinching for the next 15 minutes. But just as the tension began to mount and nerves began to fray, Dana Hills junior Mike Baxi ended the match with one resounding overhead smash.
Suddenly, Dana Hills' players began dancing around their home courts and Coach John Stephens let out a huge sigh of relief.
Once the pressure dissipated, Dana Hills went on to take three of the last four sets to beat Palos Verdes Peninsula, 13 2/3-7 1/3, Thursday at Dana Hills High.
The third-seeded Dolphins (22-0) will travel to Santa Barbara on Wednesday to play the top-seeded Dons (24-0), who defeated Beverly Hills, 16 2/3-4 1/3, in the other semifinal. Since Santa Barbara has had more road playoff matches than Dana Hills, the match will be played at an alternate site in Santa Barbara.
Baxi and his partner, Hanley Ernst, had been trailing their match against Jimmy Kim and Dean Ho, 4-2, before coming back to win the next four games.
"It gets me going knowing the match may depend on us," Baxi said. "It shoots adrenaline all through my body and points start falling."
But the points weren't falling for Baxi or his teammates early and Dana Hills led, 3 2/3-3 1/3, after one round. Baxi and Ernst lost their first set, 6-4, as did the Dolphins No. 1 team of Carlos Betancourt and Justin Rimel, 7-5.
"I can tell you right now and I think I speak for all of us, we came out nervous," Baxi said.
But Dana Hills settled down to take five of six sets in the second and build a 9-5 lead.
"That second round nailed us," Peninsula Coach Tom Cox said. "We just stunk the joint up. They're a good team. They came out of nowhere. Their doubles are tough."
But Dana Hills' singles were also tough--winning seven of nine sets. Brian Navarro, at No. 2, was especially tough and unexpectedly won two of three sets.