San Marino tennis cleans up at Rio Hondo finals

San Marino High's Daniel Gealer, left, and Robert Carter won the Rio Hondo League Individual Tournament doubles championship for the second year in a row.
(Tim Berger/Staff Photographer)

TEMPLE CITY — Coming into the Rio Hondo League Individual Tournament, San Marino boys’ tennis Coach Melwin Pereira challenged his squad based on what he saw the girls’ squad accomplish in October.

“I was trying to get them going, I said, ‘The girls took the whole thing last year, can you do that this year?'“ said Pereira, referring to the Titans’ girls taking the top-three spots in the singles and doubles brackets in the 2012 league tournament, “and I didn’t think [the boys] could.”

San Marino’s boys rose to the challenge and proved Pereira wrong, sweeping the top three spots in both singles and doubles Tuesday at Live Oak Park in Temple City. It was an improvement from a year ago when the Titans held two of the top three spots in doubles and just the singles title.

It was a year of repeat champions, as senior ace James Wade captured consecutive singles titles with a 6-2, 6-1 victory over San Marino teammate Ryan Cheng.

“Today was a tough battle out there, even though the scores didn’t indicate it,” said Wade, who’s signed to play for UC Davis next season. “I still had to grind, had to hit my shots and I was able to do that.”

After an easy championship win a year ago, San Marino’s No. 1 doubles team Robert Carter and Daniel Gealer just squeaked by teammates Nicholas Splichal and Derek Chen, 7-5, 6-3 (10-8).

“It’s a good accomplishment, but we have a lot more goals in CIF Individuals,” said Gealer, who advanced to the round of 16 in the CIF Individual Tournament last year with Carter. “We know if we play well we can do a lot better than that, but it’s good to have some experience.”

While Carter and Gealer had only played as a doubles team once this high school season and in a few tournaments outside of school, Carter said he and Gealer are good at finding their chemistry quickly.

Still, Splichal and Chen pushed the reining league champions to the limit. After splitting the first two sets, they played to five ties at 1, 2, 3, 6 and 8 in the tiebreaker.

“It was pretty nerve-wracking, especially playing against your own team you don’t want to lose,” said Carter, a junior.

When the pressure mounted, the Titans’ returning champs rose to the occasion and notched the final three points to secure the victory.

“We both know each other’s games and it just comes down to executing pretty much on big points,” said Gealer, a sophomore. “Even though we didn’t play that well, I think it’s good for our confidence. We didn’t play our best but we still found a way to win.”

The tournament certainly seemed to come easy for Wade, who didn’t drop a game until his championship match with Cheng. After a first-round bye, he defeated South Pasadena’s Kartik Raju, 8-0, in Monday’s second round and dispatched Monrovia’s Robert Pedroza, 6-0, 6-0, in Tuesday’s semifinals.

Wade’s second league title comes in a year in which he’s been dealing with a wrist injury he suffered about a month ago. It kept him out of singles and playing doubles through part of the nonleague and Rio Hondo season.

“Definitely, being out for a time makes you more hungry, make you want it more, makes you want to get back out and start playing,” said Wade, who had his wrist taped Tuesday, but said he’s “pretty close” to 100%. “I feel good right now.”

The second-seeded Cheng was also flawless before his meeting with Wade. The freshman opened with a pair of 8-0 wins over South Pasadena’s Casey Corvino and Sagar Raju Monday and then defeated Titans teammate Victor Cheng in the semifinals, 6-0, 6-0, Tuesday.

Carter and Gealer defeated La Cañada’s Joe Song and Liwon Lim, 8-5, in the second round Monday. They advanced to the championship with a 6-1, 6-1 victory over Mark Lew and Timothy Duong of San Marino in the semifinals on Tuesday.

Splichal and Chen of San Mar dropped one set in the first two rounds Monday with wins over South Pasadena’s Corey Young and Kyle Young, 8-0, and Temple City’s Brent Hong and Boris Law, 8-1.

Splichal and Chen then kept the Titans’ hopes for sweeping the top-three spots in the league’s singles and doubles with a 6-3, 6-2 victory over Temple City’s Johnny Wang and Chris Lai, who advanced to the championship doubles match in 2012.

Victor Cheng advanced to the second round via a default and defeated La Cañada’s Patrick Finnagin in the second, 8-2, Monday. After his loss to the second seed Tuesday, he knocked off Pedroza for the league’s third singles spot, 6-2, 6-0.

Lew and Duong shut out Monrovia’s Ryan Munoz and Nolan Ayala, 8-0, before posting an 8-4 victory over La Cañada’s Harrison Zuk and Leeho Lim Monday. Lew and Duong then defeated Wang and Lai for third place, 7-5, 6-3.

“We talked about that in practice, getting all six San Marino guys [in the finals],” said Wade, who reached the round of 16 in CIF Individuals in 2012. “Definitely, we want to assert our dominance in league and we have a strong team this year. We felt that was within reach.”

South Pasadena’s other two doubles teams fell in the first round Monday. Shyam Senthilkumar and Jason Wang fell to Wang and Lai, 8-3, and Scott Richard and Krishna Mocherla fell to Hong and Law, 8-2.