NEWPORT BEACH — Sage Hill School boys’ tennis coach A.G. Longoria and Cate Coach Robert Bonning stood side by side for an intense five-minute meeting after Tuesday’s CIF Southern Section Division IV quarterfinal match at The Tennis Club.
They were conducting an official recount of total games won by each team because the two squads tied, 9-9, at the end of 18 sets.
With both teams crowded around, fans swarming and parents pacing in the background, Longoria announced that Sage Hill had won, 80-79. The Lightning officially confirmed the saying “every game counts.”
“This is really incredible,” said Alex Koeberle, Sage Hill’s senior captain. “Cate is a well-known and perennial power. So, to pull this out by one game on our home court, I feel, shows a lot of character and the growth in this team.”
The result and final moments of Tuesday’ match amplified Sage Hill’s emotional momentum before going into the semifinal round.
The same emotionally charged effort will need to be on display in the next round as Sage Hill will play Rowland High which beat three-time defending CIF champion Cerritos High, Tuesday to advance to the semifinals. The Lightning lost to Cerritos in last year’s semifinals after it came down to games.
Sage Hill will face Rowland Tuesday at The Tennis Club in Newport Beach.
Against No. 2-seeded Cate, with all but one set finished and Sage Hill (10-10) trailing the Rams (13-6) by one, it came down to the Lightning doubles team of Robbe Simon and Sean Batten. The set, however, would not come easy. With every point came a cheer from every teammate. With every winner came a grunt or a fist pump from Simon and Batten. Wrapped up in the set but not aware of its importance, the two put everything on the line and battled to a 7-5 victory that ended up being the quarterfinal-winning set.
“Well, I definitely did not know that we were that close,” said Simon, a sophomore, “so I was pretty calm. But when we walked off the court someone told me we won by one game. I had no idea. I’m still surprised.”
As the No. 10 seed, the Lightning were not necessarily expected to make it this far. Playing most of the season plagued by injuries, the squad developed a knack for pulling out close matches through adversity. And with the recent addition of three previously injured players, Koeberle, Batten and Andrew Kurzweil, Sage Hill is close to being in top form. Kurzweil won two sets in singles, and Koeberle with partner Kevin Marshack won two also. Batten played brilliantly with Simon to sweep.
“I really feel like this is great momentum going into our semis and I am incredibly proud of our team,” Koeberle said. “Leading into the playoffs, we have realized that every match could be the last and we really want to lay it all out there.”
Even with the Rams’ reputation as a powerhouse squad, the Lightning did anything but back down. Each point was hard-fought, as on multiple occasions an extra line judge was asked to stand in and assist with calls.
The team came out very vocal, shouting words of encouragement to teammates from court to court throughout the match. Even as the sets got closer and more pressurized toward the end, the Lightning did not buckle. They only got more vocal.
During one set, in between each of his points, Kurzweil was walking back to the baseline while watching a teammate score a point when he promptly belted out words of positive reinforcement. For most of the afternoon, if any overt expression of emotion was heard, it most likely came from a Sage Hill player.
“This has been such a tough year as we started out 0-8,” Longoria said. “But these kids grew up today. Even with the pressure of CIF, everybody contributed.”
CIF playoffs Cate…9Sage Hill…9 Sage wins, 80-79