Sage Hill boys’ tennis makes CIF final after remarkable comeback
A crazy comeback had an unlikely hero on Wednesday for the Sage Hill School boys’ tennis team.
Clyde Cao, a sophomore, has played on the junior varsity for each of his first two years with the Lightning. He was a varsity call-up for the CIF Southern Section Division 2 playoffs this year, and he sure got inserted at a pivotal moment as the Lightning played at Chino Hills Ayala in a CIF semifinal match.
Cao substituted in for the third round of a match the Lightning trailed badly. But he didn’t worry about that. He stayed focused as players from both teams watched court side on the No. 3 singles court at Ayala. All that mattered was his opponent, Ayala’s Jason Luu.
“There was definitely a lot of pressure, but Sage Hill, we believe that we should keep going until the end,” Cao said. “Keep fighting, never give up. I was feeling really nervous at first, but I did a quick warm-up and got going. I tried my best.”
In the end, his best helped his team live another day.
Cao provided the final set win as Sage Hill produced a 9-9 (78-72 on games) victory on Wednesday.
Top-seeded Sage Hill (17-9) will play No. 2 JSerra in the Division 2 title match on Friday at 11:20 a.m. at the Claremont Club. JSerra edged West Hills Chaminade 10-8 in the other Division 2 semifinal match.
Sage Hill will be seeking its third CIF title. The Lightning somehow escaped from Chino Hills with a victory after trailing 4-2 after the first round and 8-4 after two rounds.
“Unbelievable,” coach Whit Kenerson said, before Sage Hill athletic director Megan Cid said goodbye.
“I’m headed home,” Cid told Kenerson. “Hopefully I can drive, I’m still shaking a little bit.”
Goosebumps were in order for Sage Hill, which got a singles sweep from senior Ian Jiang. Fellow senior Grant Gallagher won twice in singles.
Senior Shaan Sakraney and junior Eddie Yang won twice at No. 1 doubles for the winners, while juniors Evan Zhang and Scott Hu won once at No. 2 doubles.
Sakraney and Yang edged Ayala’s Richard Hu and Nathan Tsai 7-6 (7-3) in the final round, giving Sage Hill its eighth set win. Cao then won 6-3 in the final set to complete the match.
“This was, without a doubt, the most insane high school match I’ve played,” Sakraney said. “I’ve been playing since freshman year, we’ve always had good matches and competitive, individual sets. But to see all of our individual players and doubles teams come together and unite in this last round, really lock in and forget the score, it was really inspiring. Credit to all of the guys for bringing the energy. The third round is always a grind.”
Jiang, coming off a left ankle tweak that caused him to miss Monday’s 12-6 quarterfinal win over Diamond Bar, said he knew his team needed him to step it up in the third round. He beat Ayala’s top player Brandon Vu, who was slowed after Ayala coach Vincent Nguyen said he pulled his groin during the last set.
Ayala (16-5), which got a doubles sweep from Nick Abu-Wishah and Sean Chiu, had six senior starters. The Bulldogs got to the CIF semifinals after a couple of close wins, including an upset win at No. 4-seeded Huntington Beach on games on Monday.
“The kids played great,” Nguyen said. “We’ve been on the road, and we came back home for a big match. Tough one to lose, but the kids played well. They’re not losing their spirit, this is just going to fuel them for next year’s season.”
Ayala’s players consistently played with high energy, and Kenerson said in the end he thought that actually helped his Lightning players.
Sakraney, a senior captain, agreed with that sentiment.
“We tend to be a pretty reserved team,” he said. “[Ayala] really showed us the power of big energy. I think almost all of us lost our voices throughout that match. I think definitely bringing the energy, and keeping the energy in the third round, was huge for us.”
Sage Hill has played its CIF finals opponent, JSerra, once before this season. The Lightning earned a 10-8 nonleague win on April 22.
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