NEWPORT BEACH — Green was in abundance everywhere on Thursday afternoon at the Newport Harbor High tennis courts.
Usually only the visitors, Sage Hill, would be wearing the color. On St. Patrick's Day, even many of the Newport parents were decked out in green attire.
Nobody had to pinch anyone not wearing green. By the end, the Lightning only had to pinch themselves to believe the result of the nonleague match.
Sage Hill defeated Newport Harbor for the first time in program history, winning on games, 81-80, after each team won nine sets.
"This was especially satisfying because we did it without Robbe [Simon]," Sage Hill Coach A.G. Longoria said. "We just had a great performance from everybody. It was definitely a team effort."
Simon, Sage's top singles player, was sidelined with shoulder tendinitis. Longoria said he wants to take it easy with Simon to have him at full-strength later in the season.
Simon watched another top Lightning singles player, senior Andrew Kurzweil, come up big in the third round.
The match was tight throughout. Sage Hill had a 4-2 lead after a round but Newport Harbor tied it at 6-6 headed into the final round.
It was still tied at 8-8 – and also tied 68-68 in games – with two matches on the court. Kurzweil was playing Newport Harbor No. 1 singles player Jason Cernius, and the Sage doubles team of Nasier Emtaiz and Ryan Lee was playing Newport Harbor's Jamie Davis and Malcolm Faigen.
Kurzweil pulled out his set, 7-5, which clinched the match for the Lightning as the other set went to a tiebreaker. Davis and Faigen prevailed, 7-2, in the tiebreaker, but Sage Hill had the one-game victory.
The Lightning also had topped Newport Harbor in their Lightning Invitational two weeks ago.
"That was a college format and we had our No. 1, Robbe [Simon], then," Kurzweil said. "I feel like this is a much bigger win, emotionally. [Cernius] is a really good player so I went to Advantage Tennis Academy before this [match] and worked out there. I think it really helped me out."
Kurzweil swept his three singles sets and Denis Cirit also won two of three sets for the Lightning. Garrett Rapport, playing at No. 1 singles for Sage, lost his three sets but got games in each one, which turned out to be important.
The No. 1 doubles team of junior Alex Manolakas and senior Kevin Marshack also swept for the Lightning (3-4), and the No. 2 team of senior Sean Batten and freshman Eric Magliarditi won their key first set, 7-5, to give the Lightning some early momentum.
Sage Hill, ranked No. 4 in the CIF Southern Section Division III poll, has been in the midst of a challenging week. Earlier in the week Sage lost to Woodbridge and Los Alamitos, two Division I programs.
"It's good experience, to play teams that are going to be better than the teams you're playing in the quarterfinals and semifinals of CIF," Manolakas said. "When you play against better players, you become better."
Cernius won two of three singles sets for the Sailors (2-4). The doubles teams of Craig McKennon and Troy Arnold, as well as Greg Brostek and Fred Matz, each won two of three doubles sets.
"Today was the best match we've had so far, which says a lot because Sage is great team," Newport Harbor Coach Kristen Case said. "A 9-all, obviously you have to count games at the end, but in my eyes we're winners today. I think that we fought hard, we never gave up and we hung right in there with them. We had nine sets, they had nine sets. They can go home with a designated win, but I'm going to call my boys winners."
Case has been tinkering with her team's lineup before Sunset League play begins, which Thursday included separating the long-time doubles pairing of McKennon and Brostek. She said the two seniors, team captains along with Cernius, have been understanding.
"I gave them the captain role because they're very selfless and because they're great leaders," Case said. "Being a leader, you need to do what's best for the team in certain situations, and they understand that. I'm lucky to have them at that position."