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By Rod Thornburg/ Special to The Californian
BY ZACH EWING Californian staff writer firstname.lastname@example.org
For a moment so brief it could scarcely be noticed, Liberty and Stockdale were tied one more time.
Then a shot from Stockdale's No. 1 doubles team sailed out of bounds, ending that match seconds after the No. 2 doubles match and giving Liberty a 5-4 home victory Thursday in the Central Section Division I boys tennis quarterfinals.
It was a predictably tight match between two teams who had tied in three previous meetings this year. That wasn't possible here, and the 6-2, 6-4 victory at No. 1 doubles from Anthony Busacca and Matt Sewell clinched it for Liberty.
"It feels really good," Busacca said. "I think we needed a full team effort, a bunch of good matches. It was a battle, and it was a nice win."
The Patriots (19-4-2) were up 4-2 after singles play and needed to win just one of three doubles matches. But Stockdale (13-7-2) made things tough, with a 6-0, 6-0 victory from Matt Wells-Patrick Nassar at No. 3 doubles and a comeback at No. 2.
But just as John Matthew Flores and Preet Sheth finished their 2-6, 6-0, 10-7 victory at No. 2 -- making the team score 4-4 -- Sewell finished off the match at No. 1 with a big serve that was returned out of bounds.
"I told them, even though we had 4-2, that (Stockdale) was going to really want this and fight for it," Liberty coach Stephanie Ollivier said. "We couldn't think we had it made."
The situation was nerve-racking for the Patriots from the get-go. Ollivier said she knew Busacca and Sewell would likely have to win their singles matches for Liberty to win, and 45 minutes into the match, Busacca had lost the first set to Charles Tamer and Sewell was down 5-2 to Matt Nisson.
"Charles was on a roll, and if he can continue that, that's going to be big-time," Stockdale coach Dave Hillestad said. "And when we didn't get No. 1 or No. 2 singles, that turned out to be deadly for us. We needed to get one or the other."
Sewell won five games in a row to finish the first set and then beat Nisson 6-2 in the second. Busacca, in perhaps the day's key match, also fell behind in the second set before he rallied for a 3-6, 7-5, 10-7 win.
"He was playing really well, and I couldn't find rhythm for a little while," Busacca said. "I knew I had to win so we'd have a chance in doubles."
That victory, along with singles wins from Curt Hodgson and Connor Brady, gave Liberty to a 4-2 lead and made Ollivier's decision easy: Needing just one doubles win, she would pair Busacca and Sewell -- the No. 2 seed in the section doubles tournament -- and make Stockdale figure out a way to beat them.
"I knew what (Ollivier) was going to do, so I had to play them straight-up," Hillestad said. "Her top doubles has been tough all year. They're a tough team, and we proved we're a tough team, just not enough to get them today."
Liberty will play in Tuesday's semifinals against the winner of today's match between No. 1 Clovis West and No. 8 Clovis East. If it's the Golden Eagles, as expected, that sets up a rematch of last year's section championship, won by Clovis West amid a racous crowd and some hurt feelings on Liberty's side.
"That's the match we want," Ollivier said. "It's a grudge match."
But that's for next week.
For now, the Patriots will enjoy the way in which the most evenly matched tennis teams a person could contrive finally were separated.
"We finally broke the tie," Olliver said. "It's never easy against Stockdale."