CERRITOS — Playing with a very sore left shoulder, Sage Hill School senior Robbe Simon kept battling.
The lefty said he felt pain, particularly when serving. But there was no way Simon was going to take a seat in Monday's CIF Southern Section Division 3 semifinal boys' tennis match at Cerritos Regional Park.
Simon swept a difficult Whitney singles lineup, somehow getting through three tough sets against Vignesh Sadras, Ruthwick Pathireddy and Sathwick Pathireddy. Simon, who Coach A.G. Longoria has called the best player in program history, stayed undefeated in the playoffs.
Longoria called it an Academy Award effort. As a team, the Lightning still were snubbed at the end of the day.
No. 2-seeded Whitney came back to win huge doubles sets to beat Sage Hill, 10-8, crushing the Lightning's dreams of a repeat CIF championship.
It was the Lightning's third loss of the season to Academy League champion Whitney (23-1). All were close, as Sage Hill (12-11) lost on games in the teams' first league meeting and 11-7 in the second matchup.
Neither of those, though, hurt as badly as Monday's match.
"You have to give credit to Whitney," said Longoria, whose team lost in the semifinals for the third time in four seasons. "They did not give up. They're pretty aggressive, pretty confident with their style. I think they have a good shot in the final [against Tuesday's Valencia-St. Margaret's winner]. They may not have a super No. 1 [singles player] and a super No. 1 doubles [team], but you can see how solid their doubles are."
Solid enough to come back for two huge wins in the first round. At No. 2 doubles, the Wildcats' Gabe Cupino and Sam Lau saved a match point and rallied for a 7-5 victory over Sage's Eric Magliarditi and Ryan Lee. At No. 3 doubles, Alex Pham and Mitch Hoang overcame a 5-2 deficit, winning the last five games for a 7-5 victory over Garrett Rapport and Sam Sherman.
The Lightning easily could have had a 4-2 lead after the round. Instead, Sage was down by the same score.
Whitney also held a 7-5 sets lead after the second round after another big comeback. Cupino and Lau won the final five games to beat Sage's top doubles team of Alex Manolakas and Denis Cirit, 6-4.
With Sage Hill having little singles depth behind Simon, the Wildcats quickly won three sets in the final round to clinch the match.
Cupino said he and his Whitney teammates didn't know what to expect. As he has been doing in the playoffs, Longoria opted to split up his No. 1 doubles team of Manolakas and Magliarditi to try to increase his overall doubles strength. Whitney Coach Wes Williams did the same for the teams' second straight meeting, as the normal No. 1 duo of Cupino and Pham played with different partners.
"When we would play together, we'd at the most get three sets," said Cupino, a sophomore. "Against Sage the first time, we got two, so we decided to split up. We were hoping to get two each.
"Sage always seems to pull it off in CIF. We were really nervous before the [match]. They have so much potential, and before they never had Alex and Eric split up … We were scared to see what would happen."
But Cupino and Lau stepped up, helping Whitney make its first CIF title match since 2005. The Pathireddy brothers, as well as Sadras, won their other six combined singles sets by scores of 6-0 and 6-1.
Manolakas and Cirit, both seniors, won two doubles sets for Sage Hill. So did Lee and Magliarditi, but the deficit was too much to overcome.
"We had our shot," Longoria said. "We had a lot of people who had never been here to the big show, and it really makes a difference. You've got to get to the semis and finals to know what it's like."
Simon, who won his three sets, 6-1, 6-3, 6-2, completed a remarkable three-year career at Sage Hill after transferring from Phoenix Country Day School in Arizona.
In each of his three postseasons, Simon was undefeated, including in doubles in 2010 and in singles during last year's title run.
"I'll remember, first and foremost, the camaraderie," said Simon, fighting back tears. "I never thought that tennis could be such a team sport. Playing these three years, it was just a lot of fun."