Laguna Beach hopes for extended run in boys’ tennis playoffs
“Stayin’ Alive” by the Bee Gees played on a speaker as the host Laguna Beach High boys’ tennis team and visiting Hacienda Heights Wilson warmed up on court on Wednesday afternoon.
Now that the CIF Southern Section Division 4 playoffs are here, the song title is the goal for the Breakers. They did more than just stay alive, though, in Wednesday’s first-round match.
No. 4-seeded Laguna Beach overcame a bit of nervousness, earning a 13-5 victory to start what the Breakers hope is an extended postseason run.
The Breakers play at Yucaipa in the second round on Friday. Yucaipa beat Westminster 14-4 on Wednesday in another first-round match.
Laguna Beach (12-5), the Orange Coast League champion, is happy to win its opener. The Breakers made the Division 4 final in 2016 and lost to Redlands, and were subsequently moved up to Division 3 last season. They lost at home in the first round to Foothill.
“It was a tough loss last year,” Laguna Beach junior Mason Lebby said. “This year, we started it off with a solid win. I mean, last year, I think we were expected to win that match and it went downhill. It was tough. I personally didn’t play well at all.”
Lebby won his second straight Orange Coast League singles title last week. He said it felt good to beat Estancia senior Jake Hastings 7-5, 6-1 in the final, as he had lost to Hastings 6-4 in the Breakers’ first league meeting with the Eagles on March 28.
On Wednesday, Lebby split two sets before being subbed out. He lost 7-6 (7-3) in a 70-minute opening set against Wilson’s Stephen Lin, but rebounded for a 6-1 victory over Alvin Chan.
Andrew Johnson won twice in singles for the Breakers before he also was subbed out, and fellow sophomore Diego Tellez won a set.
Laguna Beach was even more successful in doubles, where it won eight of nine sets. Senior Blake Hawkins and freshman Matt Berk swept 6-4, 6-0, 6-1 at No. 1 doubles. Sophomore Mohammad Berri and freshman Matthew Duong won twice at No. 2 doubles, while sophomore Kyle Herkins swept with partners Francis Pillsbury and Nick Besso on the No. 3 line.
Michael Tran also won a singles set for Wilson, while the No. 1 doubles pairing of Nick Zhang and Louis Sun also won once.
Lebby said it is tough to go from dominating league play to suddenly playing in the postseason. Wilson (16-5), the Valle Vista League runner-up which beat La Mirada 13-5 in a wild-card match Tuesday, earned three of its five set wins Wednesday by tiebreaker. But overall Lebby said the Breakers played well.
Berri and Duong won the league doubles championship last week, beating teammates Herkins and Pillsbury in the title match.
“Last year, I felt we weren’t as deep as we are this year,” Lebby said. “This year, all of our doubles teams are pretty even. The league tournament showed that. It’s nice to see all of the guys improve. Diego, last year he was a sub, and this year he’s starting [at No. 3 singles].
“Our doubles teams are really well-rounded, and our subs are also about the same level. If someone has to leave early or someone’s getting subbed out, it’s not a huge drop-off.”
Second-year Breakers coach Rick Conkey agreed, saying depth was a key to the team’s success.
“I’m proud of all of these guys,” Conkey said. “They didn’t play their best today. They were playing tight, but they stayed in there. They didn’t get overwhelmed by the situation.”
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