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No pain for Sage Hill against Mustangs

May 12, 2006|By Dominic Perrone

NEWPORT BEACH ? Thursday was opening day in the third season for Sage Hill School. The preseason and league seasons past, the Lightning boys' tennis team entered the CIF Southern Section Division V playoffs coping with various types of pain.

A definitive 16-2 victory over Costa Mesa at the Balboa Bay Club and Racquet Club eased the burden and sent Sage Hill to the second round. The Lightning will travel to Temecula to play Great Oak in a second-round match on Saturday.

"The playoffs is what we play for," Lightning Coach A.G. Longoria said. "It's win or go home."

Sage Hill played without its top singles player Martin Park, who rested his aching lower back as a precaution in order to be ready for the second round. There was also the mental burden of recently finishing up Advanced Placement exams.

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Longoria has been without at least a third of his players in practice this week. With As finals looming, No. 2 singles player Karam Sethi felt the burden of a week of testing and found himself down, 4-0, to Mustangs' No. 1 John Dang.

"I was just tired," Sethi said. "I was all stressed out. It's gonna be all right though."

Sethi made it all right by winning six of the next seven games ? sapping Dang's strength, his power, with lob shots placed along the back line.

"All he could do was hit hard," said Sethi, who had his own power lessened because he used a racquet he was unaccustomed to. "My racquet is more powerful. The strings on this are too tight."

The 7-5 victory gave Sage Hill an 11-1 lead.

"I'm pretty stoked," Sethi said. "It definitely made my day a little better."

Having secured the victory through the first two rounds, Longoria was able to rest Sethi and the top doubles team of Michael Garrison and Troy Astorino, giving everybody a chance to play.

"We've had a brutal week," Longoria said.

Longoria said he was not familiar with Great Oak and would research the team on the Internet and possibly call coaches who have faced the Wolfpack.

"Just knowing where's their strength, do they have strong doubles or are they hot in singles, that will help," Longoria said.

Great Oak, the second-place team out of the De Anza League, topped Ramona, 10-8, on Thursday.

Garrison, a senior, said he is anticipating a rise in the level of competition, looking to cash in on a season full of facing larger schools.

"We want to see how far we can go," Garrison said. "The better the competition gets, the better we get. I hope every match gets tougher, but I hope we win."

Conrad Whitaker filled in for Park, impressing Longoria during the week when the coach pitted his players in singles competition to determine Park's temporary replacement. Whitaker swept all three matches he played Thursday.

"I wanted to take the challenge," said Whitaker, who usually plays doubles. "There's a lot more responsibility. It's all on me. The mental game is big in singles."

Mustangs Coach Sean Lance was pleased with how the program has continued to improve, despite ending the season on a loss.

"They guys worked really hard this year," said Lance, whose team's only losses in the Golden West League came against Estancia.

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