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Laguna Beach boys’ tennis wins a nail-biter for CIF Division 4 title

Laguna Beach High boys’ tennis coach Rick Conkey likes to say that pressure is a privilege.

It would be hard to imagine a more pressure-packed situation than the one that the Breakers’ No. 3 doubles team of Francis Pillsbury and Kyle Herkins found itself in on Friday.

They were the final set on court in the CIF Southern Section Division 4 title match at the Claremont Club. The winner of that set, against Pate Bonds and Cole West of Redlands East Valley, would decide the team title.

Pillsbury and Herkins saved two set points — essentially match points against the Breakers — to send the set to a tiebreaker. They would ultimately come through, earning a 7-6 (7-5) win and having their teammates storm the court after the dramatic 10-8 team victory lifted the Breakers to the CIF title.

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It is Laguna Beach’s fourth CIF championship in program history, and first since winning the Division 3A title in 1982. Future professional and Grand Slam doubles champion Rick Leach was a member of that team.

Laguna Beach coach Rick Conkey, now 52, played against Leach that year at Newport Harbor, before graduating in 1984. He saw the Breakers (16-5) earn two dramatic victories in the semifinals and finals. The No. 3-seeded Breakers won at Santa Ynez, 9-9 and 76-75 on games, in the semifinals on Wednesday.

“It’s unbelievable,” Conkey said. “The most amount of pressure you could possibly put on kids, and they just came through with flying colors. It’s unbelievable. I’m so proud of them. It’s something you work for all season. You strive for it, but you never expect the realization to come true. It’s like a manifestation of a dream. It’s really beautiful, for the kids and for the parents.”

Pillsbury and Herkins had to win that last set, as the Breakers were down to the Wildcats (20-5) on game count. Conkey elected not to tell them the exact situation, however. They also had to rebound from a 7-6 (7-5) loss to Redlands East Valley’s No. 1 team of Matthew Stark and Brenton Holbeck in the second round.

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“I was glad we didn’t know [the situation at the end],” Pillsbury said. “I feel like if we had known that it mattered, I would have been more nervous and more cautious with my shots.

“I was just really worn [out]. The No. 1 team tired me out so much. I was running everywhere … [but] it’s a game of endurance.”

Junior Mason Lebby won two singles sets and sophomore Andrew Johnson won once for Laguna Beach, the Orange Coast League champion which prevailed despite a 6-2, 6-0, 6-1 sweep at No. 1 singles by junior Tyler Davis of Redlands East Valley.

Senior Blake Hawkins and freshman Matt Berk swept 6-1, 6-3, 6-4 at No. 1 doubles for Laguna. Senior Nick Besso and freshman Matthew Duong won twice.

Conkey saw his team play better in the close moments. Pillsbury and Herkins, who also won twice, went up 3-0 in the deciding tiebreaker against Bonds and West. But the Redlands East Valley duo took a 5-4 lead before the Breakers won the last three points for the match.

“It’s a horse race, where everybody falls off their horse 50 times,” Conkey said. “It’s who jumps back on sooner with a smile that’s going to win the race. That’s the whole mantra all season long. Pressure is a privilege. Embrace it. It’s the team that’s more aggressive in those moments that usually wins. These are lessons in life, not just on a tennis court.”

matthew.szabo@latimes.com

Twitter: @mjszabo

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