Sea Kings two strong

Daily Pilot

CORONA DEL MAR — Early Tuesday afternoon, the pressure was already on the Corona del Mar High boys' tennis team before any balls were struck.

The players heard that No. 1 singles player, Villanova-bound senior Ryan Peyton, wouldn't be at the CIF Southern Section Division I quarterfinal match due to the stomach flu.

Hours later, the pressure was still on, this time applied by a couple of pesky Palos Verdes doubles teams.

And, as they have all season, the CdM doubles players responded. Not with their mouths, but with the kind of effort that earns plenty of circled sets on CdM's big dry-erase scoreboard.

The sweep of the nine doubles sets, plus a couple of singles sets by junior Shane Korber, allowed No. 3-seeded CdM to earn an 11-7 victory and a date at No. 2 Santa Barbara in the semifinals.

It's the first time CdM has advanced to the semifinals since 2005.

"It was a very big team effort," said senior Pierce Stemler, who plays at No. 3 doubles with junior Ismean Aboubakare. "All of us knew what we had to do. We needed to sweep ... After the first round, we kind of decided we were ready. We could handle this. They were good, but we're just a little bit better. We just needed to play our game and hit our shots."

The No. 1 team of seniors Matt Fisher and Karl Fletcher, as well as the No. 2 team of Carter Wheatley and Alex Murray, also swept for CdM (18-2).

Two sets at the end were biggest. With CdM holding a tenuous 8-7 sets lead, Stemler and Aboubakare rallied for a 7-5 victory over Palos Verdes' No. 1 team of Chase Ruth and Elliott Solandt, winning the last three games.

Moments later, Fisher and Fletcher outlasted Palos Verdes' No. 2 team of Connor Gomez and Mikey Geisinger, 7-6 (7-5).

A team called the Sea Kings was guaranteed to win, as the teams share the nickname. But those two doubles sets helped CdM earn its 10th set and clinch the match over Palos Verdes (13-7).

CdM Coach Brian Ricker said he wasn't surprised his doubles teams, which went 126-6 this year against Orange County teams not named University, would come through.

"This is one of the most exciting matches I've been involved in, in 10 years of coaching," Ricker said. "I couldn't have been more proud of the doubles players. We've had a dominating doubles season, but it seems like it's always close. To watch those last two sets was exciting."

Then, for good measure, Korber added a big win over Palos Verdes' Erik Lim, 6-3, in the last set on the court. Lim and teammate Jeff Hawke, who swept his individual sets Tuesday, had teamed to win the Ojai doubles title last month.

Hawke beat Korber, 6-1, in the opening round. But Korber's 6-1 win over Palos Verdes No. 3 John Gong enabled CdM to take a 7-5 sets lead after two rounds.

Korber definitely felt the pressure after Peyton couldn't be there. He kept stealing glances at the two doubles matches still on court near the end of his set with Lin.

Korber is ranked No. 62 in Southern California in boys' 18s by the United States Tennis Assn. while Lim, also a junior, is right behind at No. 64. But just like the doubles teams, Korber finished strong, winning the last three games.

"I knew the pressure was kind of on," he said. "If one of the doubles [teams] slipped up, I had to get the win. At 3-all, I looked over and we were down in two of the doubles sets, so I kind of turned it on a little bit. It felt good to get that last set after playing so poorly in the first one. It ended on a good note."

Santa Barbara beat Woodbridge, 15-3, in another quarterfinal Tuesday. The Sea Kings haven't played Santa Barbara in a nonleague match this year. In a different format, they fell, 4-3, to the Dons in the third-place match of the Fresno Classic on March 6. However, that match was also played without Peyton, who presumably will be back by Tuesday.

"I walked away from that thinking we would have a really close match with them," Ricker said. "I don't think of us as the underdogs for that match. I look at that as a very even match; it's going to be a good battle."

Peyton and Korber are also playing doubles together Friday in the preliminary rounds of CIF Individuals, beginning at 11:30 a.m. at The Tennis Club in Newport Beach. Ricker said they're the No. 3 seeds for the entire tournament.

CIF Playoffs Palos Verdes…7CdM…11

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