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Cerritos narrowly ousted by St. Margaret’s in quarterfinals

By Loren Kopff

CIF DIVISION III BOYS TENNIS PLAYOFFS

The Cerritos boys tennis team led or tied St. Margaret’s in sets played throughout its entire match this past Tuesday. But what matters the most was the end result and a trip to the semifinals for the second straight season was something that barely eluded the Dons.
Cerritos tied the visiting Tartans 9-9 in a California Interscholastic Federation-Southern Section Division III quarterfinal match, but lost in games played 77-75 after sophomore Frank Lee served out of bounds, down 5-4 in his set with Sam Friedman. Lee immediately broke out in tears and was quickly consoled by his teammates and head coach Chris Chutikorn on the side of the court. The Dons, ranked fifth in the division, end their season at 19-4. They started two sophomores and one freshman on the singles side against the third ranked and fourth seeded Tartans.
“They’re the youngest guys on the team, so they definitely held their spot,” Chutikorn said. “They definitely deserved the [number] one and two spots and they played like my one and two. There’s no one else who I would put in that spot. They played really well.”
He was referring to Lee, who was moved from doubles to the No. 2 singles position after the Suburban League finals and freshman Andy Ju, who was the No. 1 singles player. Ju would win the only two sets on the singles side, easily beating Alex Ramadan 6-1 and Friedman 6-2.
Although the doubles won seven of the nine sets, Chutikorn cited the lack of experience as a factor, despite dominating most of the match. Cerritos led 4-1 after the No. 2 pair of seniors Patrick Chen and Gianni Jeong knocked off Trent Sorenson and Andrew Victor 6-4 and was up 5-2 following a 6-0 win from the No. 1 duo of senior Roger Pak and junior Kevin Cheng over Marc Haddad and Ryan Kartiko.
But the Tartans tied the match at 5-5 and took a 40-39 lead in games played after Chen/Jeong fell to Brooks Robinson and Andrew Torok 4-6. But one of the best sets of the day came at the end of the second round when the No. 3 duo of senior Karteek Tavarageri and junior Rumesh Balendran edged Sorenson/Victor 7-6 (8-6) after the visitors rallied from a 6-2 deficit in the tiebreaker. After the victory, Tavarageri uttered the phrase, “I love this pressure”. That put Cerritos up 7-5 in the set and thoughts of an upset were becoming apparent, especially after Chutikorn shuffled the lineup a bit for the playoffs. Jeong and Pak had been the No. 1 doubles pair, Balendran and Cheng had teamed up at the No. 2 spot while the No. 3 pair was Chen and Lee. Tavarageri had been the No. 2 singles player.
“I paired them up not too long ago based on the way they play,” Chutikorn said of his No. 3 duo. “It worked out really well. I’m pleased with the way they played. They fought hard. Some points slipped away but they stayed strong. They played the way I wanted them to play.”
When Chen/Jeong defeated Haddad/Kartiko, 6-1, Cerritos was leading 9-6 and the team could smell the semifinals. But Ju lost to Alistair Hurry 2-6, then Balendran/Tavarageri lost a grueling 5-7 set to Robinson/Torok after leading 5-3. That set the stage for Lee, who was playing on the far southwestern court of the six that were used. That particular court, according to Chutikorn, has been the deciding court in most of the matches this past season, both for good reasons and bad.
“That’s the court that has always been the [number] three spot,” Chutikorn said. “I know my number one’s and two’s are going to take care of business pretty well. But when the rotation comes around, it’s just that court. It’s always been the court that has been the longest matches. It’s hurt us but it’s helped us at times.
“Sometimes you can just feel the vibe from the players,” Chutikorn added on being up 9-6. “They started getting a little bit tight and a little shaky. The other team’s momentum was rolling. You could just feel it. I’ve been through that position before a couple of times, so I know what it feels like.”
This was the third time this century the Dons have been eliminated in the playoffs that was decided by games. In 2010, Buckley knocked Cerritos out in the quarterfinals 76-75 and in the 2007 championship match against Viewpoint, Cerritos lost by two games. Still, the Dons have gone 231-27 overall since 2002, advancing to the semifinals five times, the finals three times and the quarterfinals twice. Two more victories would have put Cerritos in the finals where it hoped to play second ranked and city rival Whitney, which gave Cerritos one of its three losses.
“I thought about winning the whole thing,” Chutikorn said. “I feel like with these guys, you have to give them that goal. It’s not a goal that’s far-fetched but you have to make that far-fetched goal become a reality little by little. I told them I know they can win [a CIF championship]. But they have to take it one match at a time.”

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