IRVINE — Corona del Mar High senior Shane Korber never has played well against University sophomore Stefan Menichella.
Korber said he has also been sick with a sinus infection. But if there's one thing Korber has proven during his four-year varsity career at CdM, it's that he's a fighter.
There he was Thursday afternoon in the Pacific Coast League singles semifinals at University High, two points away from taking the opening set against Menichella.
No. 3-seeded Korber never did give up, but he had a rough first-set tiebreaker against No. 2 Menichella. Soon, the University player was surging to a 7-6 (7-2), 6-1 victory.
Korber finished fourth in the league after dropping the third-place match, 8-4, to Woodbridge senior Patrick Lipscomb. Only the top two singles and doubles players advance to CIF Individuals, the downside in playing in a "super-league" like the Pacific Coast League has become.
"There's even some great players who ended up having to play doubles because the singles are so deep," Korber said. "And even some of them didn't make it through the draw. It's just too bad when better players don't get to make it into CIF, but that's the nature of the league. Everybody's going to have to play everybody at some point."
The Georgetown-bound Korber was broken in the third game against Menichella, but stayed in the set. He earned three break points with Menichella serving at 5-4, converting the third one with the help of a fortuitous net-cord shot.
After Korber held to go up 6-5, he had Menichella at 30-all on his serve and was two points away. But Menichella battled to force a tiebreaker, where he went ahead 6-0 and converted his third set point.
"I've been trying to do something different every time to mix it up against him," said Korber, who has just seven singles losses this year including Ojai and the National All-American Tournament. Three of those losses have been to Menichella.
"I've never had success against him," Korber said. "I started trying to come in more, since he stands so far back and hits such a loopy ball … I played the points the way I wanted to, I got the short balls I wanted to. I just didn't execute when I got the short ball."
Menichella broke Korber's serve early in the second set after a lengthy deuce game, taking a 2-0 lead and cruising from there.
CdM Coach Brian Ricker said he liked the way Korber battled, despite his sickness.
"I thought he played really well the first set," Ricker said. "His private coach [former UC Irvine standout Mike Saunders] and I both agreed that for him to take the next step, he's going to have to come in and finish the points at the net. He did that today. We're making progress, but Stefan is just a tough player.
"[Korber] hasn't been able to take a break and he's been very, very sick. I feel like he was a little late for some of his backhands. But boy, he sure fights hard for a kid who's really sick. He didn't really need to play that third-place match, and he did. It's just bad timing. A really hard league, and bad timing that he got sick. The good news is that at least he got to get to the finals last year in doubles. He got a board up, and part of that's the bad news because he knows how much fun it is to do that. But it's hard to get one of those boards, and he got one last year."
Korber got the board at the CdM tennis courts by advancing to the CIF Individuals doubles championship match with then-senior Ryan Peyton, now at Villanova.
Now he and the Sea Kings, with no one advancing to CIF Individuals this year, can prepare for the CIF Southern Section Division I team playoffs. They begin Wednesday, with pairings released Monday.
University sophomore Gage Brymer, the top-seeded player, defeated Menichella in the boys' singles final. University's Kona Luu and Drew Dawson won the doubles title.