Seniors Clark Chapman and Alessandro Sclapari, Montgomery High School’s unbeaten first doubles team, held the fate of their team in the NJSIAA Tournament in their hands against South Brunswick on Thursday.
As the third-seeded duo in the state individual tournament, pride also was on the line after losing the first set 3-6 to South Brunswick’s Vijay Chockalingam and Viknesh Lakshmanan, the Greater Middlesex Conference Tournament champions.
The Cougars (15-0) and Vikings (15-3) had split two matches in Thursday’s Central Group IV semifinal. The first doubles showdown would break a 2-2 tie.
Amid loud cheers from teammates and supporters, the air was tense. Montgomery was down in the second set, and the pressure caused each squad to start missing shots. But Chapman and Sclapari came back to capture the tight second set, 7-5, and win the deciding third set, 6-4, booking the Cougars a ticket to Monday’s final against West Windsor-Plainsboro South.
“It feels better than usual because we were match point down in the second set,” Sclapari said. “I had a second serve on match point. Then we managed to hold serve when we were down 5-4. Once we came to win the set, we were confident that we could do it.”
His partner recalled the matchup as a repeat of last year’s semifinal, when South Brunswick came out on top. In fact, the Cougars lost to the Vikings two years in a row before claiming victory.
“Our team lost to them 3-2 in this same spot,” Chapman said, “so it was really good to come back and win this year. This wasn’t our best tennis today — I think we were up and down. We had some good games and then we just relaxed. If we play consistent, I think we can win (the final).”
At first singles, South Brunswick’s Dylan Karchere-Sun trumped Chris D’Agostino 6-1, 6-1. The first three games of the opening set were extremely long and competitive, then Karchere-Sun played efficient tennis, holding his serve throughout the match. As well, D’Agostino started making more unforced errors.
“I feel good, I played well,” Karchere-Sun noted. “I think the third game was just key and definitely helped swing momentum in my direction – we probably went to deuce 10 times. After that, the games were much shorter. My serve helped me today. I didn’t get broken, and I was able to dictate play with my forehand.”
D’Agostino took his disappointment in stride.
“It was a really tough match,” he said. “(Dylan’s) forehand is rather ridiculous and he’s an extremely mentally strong player, and he’s physically strong, too. I definitely don’t think I played poorly. He was able to hold his serve and I had difficulty holding – and that was pretty much the match.”
Erik Tavel, Montgomery’s second-year coach, was elated that his boys advanced to the final.
“I can’t even begin to say how proud I am of the team, especially Alessandro and Clark,” Tavel said. “They knew what was at stake and they showed a lot of maturity and leadership to get the deciding victory. The team overcame a big obstacle today, and I think we will grow from it and it will make us stronger moving forward. I am very excited about the possibilities.”
At second singles, Montgomery’s Kevin Xu, a freshman, defeated Kooshul Jhaveri 6-1, 6-2.
“I feel great,” Xu said. “I basically kept my composure the whole match and I’m happy about that. I look forward to the final.”
At third singles, sophomore Ben Eckardt earned a win for Montgomery against Vivek Subramani 6-0, 6-3.
South Brunswick’s Larry Liu and Surya Prabhakar beat Howard Bi and Eric Epp 7-6 (5), 6-4. It was the first defeat of the season for the Montgomery squad, which qualified for the state tournament.
South Brunswick coach Nancy McDonald was hoping that her team would win a final berth for a third year in a row.
“Well, it’s disappointing,” said McDonald, who has coached the boys tennis team for 17 years. “We had it, and we just couldn’t win the big points. My guys played great against a state-ranked team. I’m proud of them for that.”