Palm Desert High School, the two-time CIF Southern Section Division II champions, knew that if everything went as planned the Aztecs would still have a difficult time beating top-seed San Marino.
And, unfortunately for the Aztecs, they had an off day as they fell to San Marino 13-5 on Friday at the Claremont Club.
Palm Desert CIF Div II Tennis Championship)
“Nothing surprised us about that team, we knew they were good and we just didn’t play as well,” said No. 1 singles player Abe Hewko, who only won one of his three sets. “We were slightly off, but they deserved to win.”
The Aztecs only managed two victories in singles, a spot they usually dominate with Hewko and Austin Rapp, who is ranked No. 3 in the boys’ 16s of the Southern California Tennis Association.
But Hewko and Rapp each only managed one victory, and coach Randy Blalock was hoping they could each pick up at least two.
Blalock wasn’t the only one caught off guard.
“I’m surprised,” said San Marino coach Melwin Pereira. “I crunched the numbers and I thought it was 9-9 or 10-8.”
The bright spot for Palm Desert came from Cameron McDonald and Brad Cummins at No. 1 singles as they won two-of-three sets. Ryan Marker and Matt Leggat also won a set at No. 3 doubles.
Leading San Marino in singles were Danny Gealer and James Wade, who each won all three of their sets. That was an outcome Pereira wasn’t expecting, considering how good Hewko and Rapp are.
“I laid all my cards on doubles,” Pereira said. “But the dedication shows. They’ve worked really hard on their fitness. Sometimes I’m worried that they’re doing too much, but it paid off. When you’re fit, you can afford to be patient and today it paid off.”
Gealer is coming off winning the boys’ 16 national title a week ago in Arizona. Wade, the No. 1 singles player who was moved to the No. 3 spot for strategic reasons, has signed a letter to play at UC Davis next season.
In doubles, San Marino’s Robert Carter and Ryan Cheng also won all three of their sets.
“We were off, but they were on,” Rapp said. “Obviously, we’re disappointed in how we played. If we played well, they’re a very good team and there’s no guarantee we would have won. But they played their best today.”
Rapp had been the rock for the Aztecs, winning all of his sets in dominating fashion before Friday. But Rapp lost his opening set 6-1 to Gealer. Rapp said he is friends with Gealer, and although he’s never beaten him in the juniors, he had a few match points against him. Rapp figured he could win one set.
“I didn’t expect that,” Rapp said of the one-sided loss.
Blalock added, “Some days aren’t meant to be, and today it was their day. They played well.”
But the Aztecs’ season isn’t over yet. This is the first year of a state playoff that will pit teams from every division across the state. The tournament begins Tuesday. Blalock said he’s still waiting to hear the seeding and if the Aztecs will play at home.
Also next week begins the CIF individual tournament. Hewko and Rapp, who won the doubles title last year with Jack Felich, will compete in singles. McDonald and Cummins, the Desert Valley League champions, and Ryan Marker and Matt Leggat will compete in doubles.