SOUTH EL MONTE — Alex Manolakas and Eric Magliarditi had rallied before in the boys' tennis CIF Southern Section Individuals, and they did it again Thursday afternoon.
The Sage Hill School doubles duo overcame big deficits in both sets against Erik Martinez and Lyle Regalado of Ayala.
But momentum swung quickly in the round of 32 match at Whittier Narrows Tennis Center. It swung against the Lightning at the wrong time.
Martinez and Regalado held on for a 7-5, 6-4 victory, leaving Manolakas and Magliarditi a match short of advancing to Seal Beach on Friday for the round of 16.
The slow start didn't help as the Ayala duo, the Sierra League doubles champions, won the first five games of the match.
"That was probably the worst we've ever played together, when we got down 5-0," Manolakas said. "Easy shots, we were missing. Every shot, we were missing."
Sage Hill Coach A.G. Longoria gave his players some advice.
"I said, 'Let's not worry about the set, let's just try to get some rhythm,"" Longoria said. "The points were ending so fast. We had like five double faults the first three times we served, and then they were just hitting winners."
Manolakas and Magliarditi rallied to 5-5. Magliarditi even had a game point for 6-5 on his serve, but he was eventually broken. Then Martinez served out the set.
"We just dug ourselves a hole," said Manolakas, a four-year varsity player for Sage who is bound for Northwestern University for academics. "I mean, we probably could've and should've gotten out of it when we got back to 5-all and got a game point. But it didn't happen; I guess that's tennis."
The second set was similar. The Ayala players went up 4-1 before Manolakas and Magliarditi rallied to 4-4. But serving at 15-30, Manolakas double-faulted twice and his serve was broken.
After the match, Manolakas called it his worst service game of the entire year. It allowed Ayala's Regalado to serve for the set. He converted, though not before the Sage tandem saved three match points.
Martinez and Regalado have not dropped a set en route to the round of 16. From Sage Hill's perspective, it was a frustrating way to end a frustrating match.
"We missed the big points," said Magliarditi, a sophomore. "We didn't convert."
But Manolakas and Magliarditi still know they made history. The Academy League doubles finalists are the first Sage Hill boys' singles player or doubles team in program history to get this far in CIF Individuals.
They never stopped fighting. In the second round of Individuals, they saved four match points against a team from Redondo Union before winning in a super-tiebreaker.
"This run has been great," Manolakas said. "We just never really got down, even when we were down."
Corona del Mar High senior Alex Murray and freshman Henry Gordon are the lone Newport-Mesa representatives in the CIF Individuals round of 16. Murray and Gordon, the Pacific Coast League doubles finalists, play at Seal Beach Tennis Center at 11:30 a.m. Friday.