With Shibahara contributing nothing more than encouragement, the Sailors (13-5) played inspired tennis.
“We were fired up and ready to go in the first round,” Sailors Kristen Case said. “We played unbelievable. I was really proud of the way we came out and stepped it up. That [first round] I saw some of the best tennis I’ve seen [the Tars] play.”
Newport Harbor junior Erik Heimstaedt defeated Chris Dalton, 7-5, at No. 2 singles, while Sailors Josh Tuz and Jason Cernius earned a 7-5 win at No. 3 doubles to help get the hosts (13-5) off on the right foot.
But at No. 2 doubles, Peninsula senior Michael Cutrer and freshman Nick Tong, prevailed, 7-6 (3), over Newport seniors Daron Arnold and Cameron Chase to help the Panthers (13-8) avoid a precarious deficit.
“I’m not sure we could have come back from down, 5-1,” Hoeger said.
Case was inclined to agree.
“Leading 4-2 is great,” Case said. “But 5-1 is huge. But [Arnold and Chase] played such a good set of tennis, you can’t be disappointed in that.”
Arnold and Chase rebounded to win their remaining two sets, while Peninsula swept the other four doubles sets to help it keep its pristine first-round playoff steak alive.
“We’ve never lost in the first round since the school opened in 1991,” said Hoeger, whose team failed to win the Bay League title for only the second time this season. It was the first time in its history that Peninsula finished third in league.
The third-place finish put the Panthers on the road in the first round, which proved to be bad fortune for the Sailors.
“It was a really tough team to play in the first round,” Case said. “Peninsula will do well [in the playoffs]. I think it will do really well.”
Sophomore Tracy Beblie was part of the impressive first round, blitzing his No. 3 singles opponent, 6-1.
But Beblie and Heimstaedt were bested in tie-breakers in the second round, as Peninsula regained control.
“I do think that by the third round, my guys had the wind taken out of them, because they were giving everything and coming so close,” Case said.
“It’s a bummer that we have to end the season so early, but our No. 1 goal was to win league and they did a great job all throughout league, they did that. So, I’m really happy with them. They had fun, they gave it 100% and that’s all I can ask for.”
It was the first league title in recent memory for Newport Harbor, which has made the playoffs the last two seasons.