BY STEPHEN LYNCH Special to The Californian
Freshman tennis standouts Dylan Simonson of Garces and Kaleb Johnson of East are hoping desperately for another chance to play each other this year, preferably in the Central Section singles final.
The two close friends, who split a pair of matches during Southeast Yosemite League play, took a big step towards achieving that goal on Saturday.
The pair along with Liberty's Anthony Busacca and Stockdale's John Matthew Flores made it through to the semifinals of the Central Section South Area Individual Tournament at Garces, automatically qualifying for the section championships next weekend at Sierra Pacific High School in Hanford.
Johnson, the Southeast Yosemite League singles champion, lived up to his No. 1 seeding, losing only three games during his two matches.
"I played like the best I have the whole season in those matches today," Johnson said.
Johnson's only loss this year in singles came at the the hands of Simonson, who withdrew from the SEYL tournament with a broken hand after reaching the semifinals of the event.
That injury derailed a potential third meeting between Johnson and Simonson, one is that now has the distinct possibility of taking place during the section tournament.
"That's what I'm hoping for," Johnson said. "That would be fun."
Despite his hand not being completely healed, Simonson was just as sharp as Johnson. He beat Mira Monte's Chris Barcenas 6-0, 6-0 and then took down Liberty's Steve Lancaster 6-0, 6-1.
"I just had to stay consistent," Simonson said.
Simonson, who also has only one loss not counting the SEYL tournament default, broke his hand roughly a month ago when he fell during P.E.
"I've played for five days now and it really hasn't hurt," he said.
Simonson is looking forward to the section championships and perhaps a third showdown against Johnson.
"I just got to keep practicing, get back to where I was before I broke my hand," he said..."It would be fun to play Kaleb again. We've been friends since we've been 10."
Busacca, the No. 3 seed and Southwest Yosemite League singles champion, breezed his way into the final four with a pair of lopsided victories.
"I thought played really well," Busacca said. "The first one I was a bit tired. I needed to stretch out. The second one I came out with a lot of energy. I knew I was stretched out and ready to play. So I just came out an executed exactly how I wanted to play."
In a match-up between the No. 4 and No. 5 seeds Flores, the SWYL runner-up, beat South Sequoia League champion Jack Han of BCHS, 6-1, 6-4 in the quarterfinals.
"The first set went by actually really quickly because I was confident," Flores. "But when the second set started, I started doubting myself and I started to bee too safe. That's when I got behind. But when I realized that wasn't working, playing safe, I started to be offensive in every single ball and I think that worked."
Four doubles teams also punched their ticket to the section individual championships by reaching the semifinals and stopping point of Saturday's area tournament.
All of the area quarterfinal losers are still eligible for wild cards. The draw for the section tournament will be determined Monday night in Visalia.
Stockdale dominated the doubles competition, taking three of the four automatic qualifying spots.
Second-seeded Daniel Van Matre and Patrick Nassar thrashed Liberty's Paraas Cheema and Shlok Patel, 6-0, 6-0 in the quarterfinals to give the Mustangs their first entry into the section doubles tournament.
Later top-seeded Andrew Schwartz and Nizam Khan of Stockdale beat No. 8 Christian Curutchague and Kyle Heffermann of Garces, 6-4, 7-5.
Those results went according to seeding as did No. 3 David Rodriguez and Drew Raney of Liberty downing No. 6 Nicolo Daug and Tanner Harris of Bakersfield Christian, 6-2, 6-1.
The only real surprise of the entire event was the play of Stockdale's Andre Paradise and Edward Ramirez. The unseeded duo knocked off No. 5 Alec Slykerman and Zach Gomez of Garces in the round of 16.
They followed that up with a thrilling 7-5, 4-6, 6-2 quarterfinal victory over No. 4 Tristen Lerma and Andrew Berdon of BHS.
"I was really happy with my third doubles team," Stockdale coach Dave Hillestad said. "I we had to knock off (two tough teams). They've played on and off this year, those two in doubles. They've been on sometimes. They've been off sometimes. But they put it together today and played great. I'm very proud of them."