Burbank tennis lets second round slip away by slimmest of margins

BURBANK — The smiles on the faces of the members of the Burbank High girls’ tennis team could be seen slowly turning to frowns, as the girls began to realize their second-round playoff match was agonizingly slipping away.

Up four sets through 14, Burbank failed to hold off visiting St. Margaret’s of San Juan Capistrano in a 9-9 (71-70 in games) loss on Friday afternoon at Burbank High in the second round of the CIF Southern Section Division II playoffs.

Up, 66-53, in games with three sets remaining, the Bulldogs needed just six combined games to advance to the quarterfinals for the first time since 2003.

But it wasn’t meant to be, and, as Lola Barnard and Elise Talley finished off Burbank’s Veronica Mendoza and Gabrielle Markari, 6-2, Burbank players were forced to walk off their home court as St. Margaret’s flooded onto it in jubilation.

“It was very stressful,” said Burbank No. 1 singles player Lilit Vardanyan. “I could see everyone was nervous. You can’t blame one person. Everyone could have done a better job.”

For her part, Vardanyan continued a stellar season, improving her record to 53-1 on the year with only the CIF individual postseason remaining, beginning on Nov. 25.

Vardanyan swept through her three sets 6-0, 6-0, 6-3, and the loss keeps her from avenging her one setback of the season against Natalia Munoz of Hart, which Burbank (15-3) would have faced with the victory.

The turning point came in the second round, when the Burbank No. 3 doubles team of Mendoza and Markari held a set point over St. Margaret’s No. 2 team of Maddi Ursini and Julia Moulhawar before falling in a tiebreaker, 7-6 (9-7).

“They hung tough,” said St. Margaret’s Coach Chris Barker, whose team, which finished second in the Academy League, improved to 11-6. “They were playing against a team that was consistent, but they were able to pull it out.”

The match marked the first time the Bulldogs had advanced to the second round under seventh-year head coach Loi Phan and concluded a season that saw the Bulldogs win a Pacific League title for the first time (Burbank last won a title in 2002 when it was still in the Foothill League).

“We had a great season,” Phan said. “You can’t let this one [define it]. They came back and took it away from us.”

In addition to Vardanyan, Nicole Merrit added two singles wins, 6-4, 6-2.

The No. 2 doubles team of Elizabeth Sanchez and Meredy Gharabegi swept 6-1, 6-2, 6-0.

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