Tars find another gear

NEWPORT BEACH — Newport Harbor High held its back-to-school night on Monday, and senior Blake Bakkila was supposed to be in attendance.

Bakkila is the editor-in-chief of the Newport Harbor school newspaper, The Beacon.

"We were just supposed to hand out fliers," Bakkila said. "I just have to prioritize, especially in the fall."

She could be excused from the back-to-school night, though she and the Sailors were involved in quite a test a couple of miles down Pacific Coast Highway at The Tennis Club Newport Beach.

Bakkila made sure Newport Harbor passed, sweeping in singles as Newport Harbor earned a 13-5 nonleague victory against Sage Hill.

The match was closer than the final score might indicate. It was tied, 3-3, after a round, and Sailors Coach Kristen Case didn't necessarily see that as a bad thing.

"For us, it has been pretty smooth sailing with our matches up until this point," Case said. "We've had a 16-2, a couple 17-1s, a 15-3. It was nice to get tested a bit. I like to tell them that you really don't know how good you are until you're called to rise to the occasion, and Sage called them to rise today. I think Sage played great, but our girls are just so tough. That's one thing I really love about this team, their fight. They were not going to give this match away."

It turned in the second round, when the Sailors (6-1) won five of six sets. The round was capped off by maybe the longest set of the day. Newport Harbor sophomore Natalie Cernius outlasted Sage Hill junior Liana Korber, a set that was a grind despite the 6-0 score.

"Liana's a pretty good player," said Cernius, who earned the "triple bagel" with three 6-0 wins. "The last game was at least 10 deuces. It was really, at that point, just a battle of wills. It was a battle of mental toughness. I'm really glad that I could just pull through."

The Sailors, ranked No. 2 in the CIF Southern Section Division II coaches' poll, won eight of nine singles sets. The one Lightning win came from Korber in the first round over Newport Harbor freshman Annie Radeva, who rebounded to win her final two sets.

Newport Harbor also won five of nine doubles sets. Senior Mindy Wheeler and junior Megan Bathen swept at No. 2 doubles, and senior twins Christina and Robin Young won twice at No. 1 doubles.

Sage Hill Coach A.G. Longoria said the goal was to go 3-3 after the first round and 6-6 after the second round, putting pressure on the Sailors. His team accomplished the first part but not the second.

Still, he could be proud that the match was much closer than a year ago, when Newport Harbor triumphed, 16-2.

"I don't know any team in Orange County that's as good in doubles [as Newport Harbor], from top-to-bottom," Longoria said. "They killed us in the second round. We only got one [set] in the second round, then we were going uphill. But I was proud of the effort. We were fighting back and had some chances."

Seniors Katie Bick and Rian Billingsley won two of three doubles sets for Sage Hill (4-2), ranked No. 3 in Division III. The No. 2 doubles team of Casey Astorino and Lauren Hsu, as well as the No. 3 team of Ava Soleimany and Kimberly Brown, each won once.

The Lightning will have to bounce back quickly, as they play host to rival St. Margaret's on Tuesday in both teams' Academy League opener. The three-time defending CIF champion Tartans are ranked No. 2 in Division III.

St. Margaret's has won 78 straight matches. Longoria said the Tartans have two singles players, Tiffany Cheng and Zoe Oedekirk, who could easily sweep their six combined sets.

"It will be very, very tough," Longoria said. "It could very easily come to games."

Matthew.szabo@latimes.com

Twitter: @mjszabo

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