BY ZACH EWING Californian staff writer email@example.com
CLOVIS -- Perfect symmetry had never been more beautiful for Stockdale's girls tennis team Wednesday night at Buchanan High School.
The Mustangs finished off Buchanan 6-3 for the Central Section Division I championship on the same court where the Bears ended Stockdale's season 371 days ago -- by the same 6-3 score.
"A lot of these girls remember being here and having to hold up that second-place trophy," Mustangs coach Dave Hillestad said. "We did not want to have to do that again."
Just as Buchanan did last year, Stockdale (19-4) won two third-set tiebreakers in singles play to gain a 4-2 lead. And just like the Bears, the Mustangs finished things off with an undefeated doubles team, in this case the section doubles championship pair of Cara Kemp and Emily Horrigan, who beat Lauren Lee-Brooke Sanford, 6-1, 6-3 for an insurmountable 5-2 lead over the Bears (20-5).
"It was a lot of pressure," Horrigan said. "We haven't lost, but it's still a match. We could have a bad day, they could have a good day. Anything can happen. But we're so excited that we won."
It was Horrigan who provided what Hillestad called the match's "momentum-switching turning point."
After losing the first set 6-1 to Sanford, Horrigan reversed course, won the second 6-2 and then took the tiebreaker 10-5.
"I knew I had to get it together," Horrigan said. "I had a little talk with myself after that first set."
Her victory, coupled with wins from No. 1 Arianna Tilbury, 7-5, 6-4 over Sravya Gudipudi, and from Kemp, who beat Lee 6-4, 6-1 at No. 2 singles, gave Stockdale a 3-1 lead. Hillestad said he would have felt good at 3-3 going into doubles, but so did Buchanan coach Johnathan Slater. A fourth singles victory would tilt the balance.
Enter Claire Heffernan, Stockdale's highest-ranked senior and a four-year varsity starter. She had also lost the first set, 6-2 to Mary Kate Shellworth and rebounded to win the second, 6-2. She was mired in a back-and-forth tiebreaker with the match perhaps hanging in the balance.
"I wasn't worried," Kemp said. "She probably wanted this more than any of us. She fought every point."
Heffernan finally finished off Shellworth, 11-9, and Stockdale had the all-important fourth singles victory.
"Honestly, it was probably the best turnaround I've ever had," Heffernan said. "I just started to try to keep the balls in the court and fight."
Slater, the Buchanan coach, went a step further.
"I thought we played well, so give Stockdale credit," he said. "We made them have to play one of their best matches of the season, and they did. I've seen Claire play for four years now, and that's the best match I've seen her play. Their talent at the top was too much."
It was Stockdale's seventh girls tennis section title but the first since it won six in a row from 2003-2008.
That's just long enough of a gap, of course, to where none of this year's Mustangs seniors were around for it.
"It feels awesome," said Kemp, a senior who transferred from Palos Verdes Peninsula during the summer. "They've been fighting for it, and it meant a lot to them. It meant a lot to me, too, because I knew how much they wanted it."
Hillestad said he was miffed that the section commissioners gave the Mustangs the No. 2 seed -- they had split with Buchanan during the regular season but won the meeting in which the teams played the best-of-nine format that's used in the playoffs.
"It might have been a good thing," he said. "It added a little motivation. We realized we have to beat everybody anyway and that, really, it doesn't matter where we play."
But playing at Buchanan did offer a chance for some sweet retribution.
"This is my senior year, and last year we were very, very close to winning it here," Heffernan said. "We wanted to come and finish it this time and win. It's very special to me."
D-IV: Selma tops Taft
SELMA -- The top-seeded Bears won four third-set tiebreakers to beat defending the champion Wildcats 8-1.
Taft's key losses came in singles, where Selma (21-4) built a 5-1 lead to clinch the title. At No. 2, Selma's Tori Cisneros fought back from 7-4 down in the tiebreaker to beat Lupita Lozano, 10-8. Then at No. 6, with the rest of the singles matches long finished, Lia Lopez won six straight points in a 10-6 tiebreaker win over Gloria Okafor.
Last year, Taft won all three doubles matches to edge Liberty-Madera Ranchos 5-4 in the final, but the Wildcats (18-9) didn't get that chance this year.
"This Selma team was very good," Taft coach Jim Carnal said. "Hats off to them."
Roxy Barboza earned Taft's only victory, 6-3, 6-0, over Aliza Cambunga at No. 5 singles.
No. 3-seeded Taft lost six seniors from last year's championship team and upset No. 2 Liberty-Madera Ranchos in last week's semifinals.
"When the season started, my goal was to be in the top four, and we made the top two," Carnal said. "They were just a tad better than us at every spot."