Boys Tennis: Knights notch CCS win

 

By Nathan Mollat Daily Journal Staff 

 

The clock still hasn’t struck midnight for the Hillsdale boys’ tennis team as the Knights just keep pulling out wins from tight matches.

Wednesday was the latest example of the never-say-die Knights. Tied with Crystal Springs 3-3 in the first round of the Central Coast Section team tournament, Hillsdale’s fortunes, once again, were on the rackets of the Knights’ No. 3 doubles team of Casey Mulkerrins and Tomoya Hirano, who have come to exemplify the team’s newfound resolve.

After dropping the first set to Crystal Springs’ Max Chang and Henry Ding, 6-4, the Hillsdale duo rallied to win the next two sets — 7-6 (4), 6-2 — to clinch the Knights’ first CCS win in nearly 20 years.

“It’s like a dream right now,” said Mulkerrins, who let loose with a cry of, “Yes, Tomoya!” when Crystal Springs double faulted on match point.

“We just find a way to build momentum and build from there.”

Mulkerrins and Hirano have been in this position before. The Knights tandem won their match in three sets minutes before teammate Lucas Rosenberg won his No. 2 singles match to beat Aragon in the first round of the PAL team tournament. Mulkerrins and Hirano rallied from a set down to win in three — that give the Knights the win over Carlmont in the PAL championship match and punched their ticket to CCS.

And now the Knights can add a CCS victory to their 2018 ledger.

“I don’t know why, but our matches are always close,” Hirano said. “I tried to keep lobbing and let them make mistakes.

“I can’t believe it.”

Now the Knights will face another familiar opponent in Friday’s second round when they host Menlo-Atherton, the No. 5 seed in the tournament and the PAL regular-season champion. The Bears swept the two regular-season matches with Hillsdale this year. Because of construction on the M-A campus, all the Bears’ tennis matches this season have been played on the road.

In other CCS action involving county teams, Carlmont, which finished second in the regular-season Bay Division standings, advanced to a second-round match against No. 7 Leland after beating Fremont-Sunnyvale, 5-2. Aragon, the other third of four Bay Division teams in action Wednesday, saw its season come to an end with a tough 4-3 loss to Homestead.

Crystal Springs head coach Sean Burns gave Mulkerrins and Hirano credit for devising a plan to deal with the swirling winds that always seem to buffet the Hillsdale campus in afternoon. Hirano had a knack for lobbing the ball over the heads of both Chang and Ding, forcing the Crystal Springs duo into defensive returns.

“Their three doubles guys figured out a formula, especially with the wind,” Burns said. “They managed the conditions really well. They played really smart and they didn’t give in.”

Chang and Ding had a relatively easy time in the first set before Mulkerrins and Hirano dug in. Hillsdale twice in the second set had to serve to stay in the match and the Knights came out on top both times, tying the set at 6-all and going to a tiebreaker. The Gryphons duo led 4-3, but Hillsdale won four straight points to take the race-to-seven points, 7-4 to force a third set.

By this time, the Knights had tied the team score at 3-all after Rosenberg’s 7-5, 6-3 win at No. 2 singles, meaning all eyes were on the third doubles match, which Burns believe affected his players more than Hillsdale.

“[The difference] was also the pressure of (playing) a third set in a clinching match,” Burns said.

Both Mulkerrins and Hirano admitted they were nervous going into the final set.

“We just played it like it was another [set],” Mulkerrins said. “I tried not to think about it, but it’s not easy.”

Both teams showed their nerves as they took turns breaking each other’s serves to begin the set. Tied at 1-all, Crystal Springs broke Hillsdale on the sixth deuce point. The Knights broke right back to tie the set at 2 and then took control when Hirano won his service game on the sixth deuce point as well to give Hillsdale a 3-2 lead.

The Knights broke the Gryphons again in the sixth game for a 4-2 lead. Hirano held serve again for a 5-2 advantage before Hillsdale broke the Gryphons’ team one last time, winning the game, set and match on a Crystal Springs double fault.

“Amazing,” said Hillsdale coach Jackie Nachtigall. “I told Casey, ‘I’m so sorry. It’s going to come down to you and Tomoya again.’”

Mulkerrins and Hirano were only in the position they were because of the play of the rest of their teammates. Especially the singles spots, where Hillsdale won three of the four matches.

Crystal Springs’ No. 1 singles player, freshman Brian Bilsey, is a highly ranked junior player and he had little trouble giving the Gryphons an early team point, as he rolled to a 6-1, 6-0 win.

The Gryphons’ No. 1 doubles team of Owen Dillon and Ethan Lo also rolled to a relatively easy victory, winning their match 6-0, 6-2 to give Crystal Springs a quick 2-0 lead in the team score.

“We felt going in we had spots where we clearly had the advantage,” Burns said, citing No. 1 singles and doubles. “All the toss ups, [Hillsdale] won. We didn’t have much margin of error with these guys.”

Hillsdale got on the scoreboard with a 6-2, 6-0 win from Ben Liao at No. 3 singles, but Crystal Springs took a 3-1 team lead after its No. 2 doubles team of Josh Chang and Justin Chan posted a 6-2, 6-2 victory.

But Hillsdale’s Marcus Cheng’s win at No. 4 singles gave the Knights their second team point and, when Rosenberg finished off his match at No. 2 singles, it left only the No. 3 doubles match to decide things.

“Three doubles, they just make it work,” said Liao, one of four seniors on the Hillsdale team. “For some reason, we’re able to put together four matches to get the win.

“I just remember my freshman year … we won one match. I remember thinking, ‘Maybe senior year we’ll be better.’ Now, senior year — fourth in PAL, win the PAL tournament, go to CCS. … I never thought this would happen.”

 

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