Seeking berth in a final

Daily Pilot

One of the two local high school boys' tennis teams in the semifinals of the CIF Southern Section playoffs expected to be alive in this round. The other program wasn't so optimistic of its chances.

Corona del Mar achieved its goal. Sage Hill School has surprised itself.

Each school doesn't want its respective playoff run to end today.

The third-seeded Sea Kings (18-2) travel to second-seeded Santa Barbara (16-1) for a Division I semifinal match at 3 p.m.

The Lightning (10-10) play host to No. 3 Rowland (18-2) in a Division IV semifinal match at The Tennis Club at 3 p.m.

While CdM tries to qualify for its 15th section championship match in the program's history, Sage Hill looks to reach its first.

The Sea Kings are one victory away from making their first title appearance since 2003. In his second year after taking over the program after Tim Mang stepped down in 2008, Coach Brian Ricker has guided CdM to its first semifinal match in five years.

CdM last saw Santa Barbara at the Fresno Classic on March 6. The Sea Kings, playing without No. 1 singles player Ryan Peyton, lost to the Dons, 4-3, in a third-place match.

Ricker expects the second meeting between the two schools to be another close one.

Sage Hill Coach A.G. Longoria is hoping that's how it plays out between his Lightning and Rowland. He knows the Lightning are the underdogs.

"We're the lowest [ranked] team [in the final regular-season coaches' poll] left in the tournament," said Longoria, who for the second straight season has led Sage Hill to the semifinals.

Getting back wasn't so easy.

The Lightning began the season with eight straight losses. Their top players dealt with injuries.

Playing the division's elite programs didn't help improve the record. Sage Hill faced Viewpoint of Calabasas, the Division IV top seed, and Laguna Beach, the No. 4 seed, and bigger schools, Woodbridge, Santa Margarita, Mater Dei and Newport Harbor, all of which made the Division I playoffs.

"They weren't cupcakes," said Longoria, whose team dropped each of those matches. They weren't all mismatches, the Lightning playing some of those opponents tough.

Still, Longoria has to wonder how Sage Hill has gone this far with only one senior starter. The Lightning beat second-seeded Cate of Carpinteria, 80-79 in games, after the quarterfinal match was tied, 9-9.

"I really don't know how we've done it," Longoria said. "If you would've told me we'd be here after how we started the season, I wouldn't have believed you."

The Lightning have struck back in a major way. Longoria has a young team believing it can pull off the impossible.

Alex Koeberle and Andrew Kurzweil lead the way in singles play.

Others elevating their play of late have been Spencer Apramian and Robbe Simon.

The six starting seniors who couldn't get Sage Hill to the big dance last season won't miss the program's latest opportunity to do so. Longoria said graduates like Troy Astorino and Andrew Yun plan to attend the afternoon match to support the team.

"We're hoping we don't get embarrassed at home," Longoria said.

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