Ridge High School seniors Stephen Chung and Eric Zhang, alphabetically seeded 5-8, were not intimidated as they squared off with Millburn’s second-seeded doubles duo of Andrew Nolff and Evan Imegwu in Wednesday’s NJSIAA doubles semifinal.
The Red Devils’ tandem had won a tough, three-set quarterfinal a day earlier and approached their higher-seeded Millburn rivals with confidence.
Still, Chung and Zhang soon found themselves down 0-3 in their opening set at Mercer County Park.
It ended up being a pretty close set, with lots of games going to deuce. Nevertheless, Millburn snagged the first set 6-3. Ridge came back strong in the second set, winning a string of games to claim a 6-3 win.
It was Millburn, however, which pulled out the 6-3, 3-6, 6-2 victory to book a ticket to Thursday’s final against Newark Academy’s top-seeded Ben Hyatt and Jonathan Holtzman.
“Obviously it’s a little disappointing,” said Chung, who will attend Carnegie Mellon University in the fall. “But it’s still pretty satisfying that we were able to make it this far — getting to the semifinals is hard enough, and I’m really proud of what we did it together as a doubles team.”
His partner echoed the sentiment.
“It’s disappointing to not make the finals and not to be able to continue competing,” admitted Zhang, who is bound for Washington University in St. Louis. “But at the same time, we’re proud of what we’ve accomplished.
“I’ll probably continue training in the offseason and play club tennis in college,” Zhang added.
Ridge coach Chad Griffiths took the defeat in stride.
“We lost to a great team, no question about it,” Griffiths said, “and it’s a different pair than we faced in the sectional final. After a slow start, my boys settled and were definitely the better team in the second set. We just had trouble keeping the momentum going into the third set.”
Noting that Ridge never reached this far in the doubles tournament in five or six years, Griffiths said he was happy that Chung and Zhang finished their high school careers on a high note.
“It’s a great accomplishment for these kids to get to the final four. These guys had only four losses all season,” Griffiths added.
Both doubles semifinals went the distance — Newark Academy also needed three sets (6-2, 2-6, 6-2) to get past Livingston’s fourth-seeded duo of Sam Farber and Justin Patel.