It’s almost startling how the entire complexion of a nine-point team tennis match can turn on the dime with just the result of a single game.
No better example of that than in Thursday’s Central Section Division II championship match between the Redwood Rangers and the Sanger Apaches.
Midway in the second set of the three doubles matches, the forecast of a second straight runner-up finish for the Rangers appeared to be pretty reliable.
It wasn’t. The Rangers not only grabbed momentum away from Sanger, they were able to capture the Division II championship plaque by match’s end.
The top-seeded Rangers earned the Division II boys championship with a thrilling 5-4 win over No. 2 Apaches at Redwood High School.
“This is an amazing feeling. This was all about playing with Ranger spirit and Ranger pride,” Redwood’s Miguel Garcia said. “It’s unbelievable.”
Thursday’s win marked Redwood’s first Central Section boys tennis crown since 2006.
And the Rangers had to endure plenty of nail-biting moments to get there, as they have developed a penchant for 5-4 scores over the last two postseasons:
* * Redwood required a 5-4 win over No. 4 San Joaquin Memorial in Tuesday’s semifinals to advance to Thursday’s final.
* Redwood advanced to last year’s Division II championship match with a pair of 5-4 wins.
* Redwood fell 5-4 to Frontier in last year’s title match, which prompted the Rangers’ 2013 battle cry.
“Everyone was devastated after losing last year,” Redwood junior Dom Quintanilla said. “We were not happy watching Frontier dance on our home court. We said this season that we weren’t going to allow another team to dance on our home court. If there was going to be dancing on our home court, it was going to be by us.”
It was anybody’s guess on which team would be dancing after the completion of singles play on Thursday.
Sanger held a 3-2 lead, but Redwood managed to knot things up at 3-3 going into doubles with Sam Lechtman taking the No. 4 singles match, 6-1, 6-3.
But the Apaches grabbed some momentum after the first sets were completed in the three doubles matches.
Sanger’s duo of Connor Bennett and Robert Cardenas rallied back from a 5-4 deficit to post a 7-6 (7-3) first-set win in the No. 1 doubles match.
Sanger’s Chris Popa and Andres Villarreal topped Garcia and Quintanilla 6-4 in their first set.
Redwood avoided the first-set sweep with Alex Gong and James Choi posting a 7-6 (7-2) first-set win.
Still, the Rangers lost two of the three first sets and needed one of their pairings to force a super tie-breaker.
Things didn’t look good to start the second set.
Gong and Choi took care of business with a 6-0 second-set win to give the Rangers a 4-3 overall lead, but the other two matches were going the Apaches’ way again.
Quintanilla and Garcia were down 4-3 and Bennett and Cardenas held a 3-2 advantage over Lechtman and Evan Morritse.
The mind games weren’t going Redwood’s way either.
“To be honest, I thought we were going to lose it,” Garcia said.
His partner wasn’t brimming with confidence either.
“I thought we would lose it. I thought it we could just extend the match as long as we can, then maybe we would have a shot,” Quintanilla said.
That’s when Redwood coach Russ Brown decided to step in and give the two players a pep talk.
“He said keep your heads up, and keep playing with that Ranger spirit,” Garcia said.
The pow-wow worked.
Garcia and Quintanilla won the next two games to go up 5-4, and won two out of the last three to win the second set, 7-5, forcing a super tie-breaker (first one to 10 points with at least a two-point margin wins).
The super tie-breaker was all Redwood.
Redwood bolted out to an 8-2 lead with Garcia delivering an ace right between the two Sanger players that put the Rangers up by six. That prompted the pairing of Morritse and Lechtman to pay as much attention to Garcia and Quintanilla’s match as their own.
“I’m telling Miguel at that point the score is 0-0. We couldn’t let this get away from us,” Quintanilla said.
With the score at 9-4, all eyes were on the far court and Garcia ended it with a smash that provided Sanger no chance for a return, prompting Garcia and Quintanilla to lay prone on the court in celebration.
“There are no words for that,” Garcia said.
“This [doubles win] was all about Miguel,” Quintanilla said.
Also picking up points for Redwood were Morritse with a 6-1, 6-0 win in the No. 1 singles match, and Mark Garcia’s 6-2, 6-4 win in the No. 5 singles match.