Nathan Mollat/Daily Journal
Aragon’s Rithik Booreddy, who teamed with Richard Tang at No. 1 doubles, volleys a return
during the Dons’ 5-2 win over Burlingame in the semifinals of the PAL team tournament.
Like most coaches, Aragon boys’ tennis coach Dave Owdom had some doubts about his team’s chances in the semifinals of the Peninsula Athletic League team tournament.
One reason for Owdom’s trepidation was the fact he had to juggle a couple pieces of his lineup. The bigger reason, however, was Aragon’s opponent Wednesday: Burlingame. Despite a fourth-place finish, the Panthers have proven over the years to be a tough out.
The Dons, the No. 2 seed, had beaten fourth-seeded Burlingame twice during the regular season and everyone knows the old saying about beating a team three times in one season.
“As a coach, I’m always worried,” Owdom said. “You respect your opponent before you play and relax after.”
Turns out Owdom didn’t need to sweat too much. With his top two singles players easily winning in straight sets, it set the tone for a 5-2 Aragon victory that sends the Dons into the championship match at top-seeded Carlmont today at 4 p.m. The winner will earn the PAL’s second automatic bid to the Central Coast Section tournament.
“They say it’s hard to beat a team three times (in the same season),” said Burlingame coach Bill Smith. “They are wrong. Aragon is a good, quality team. Even short a player, they had enough to pull it out.”
With half of his top doubles team missing, Owdom used his No. 2 singles player, Rithik Booreddy, and paired him with Richard Tang to fill the doubles spot. That meant everyone else moved up a slot in the singles lineup. Daniel Duan moved into the No. 2 singles spot, David Wu moved from No. 4 to No. 3 and Jordan Chall was inserted into the fourth singles position.
The plan worked, more or less, as both Duan and the tandem of Booreddy and Tang both won their matches in straight sets.
Wu and Chall came up short, but both went to three sets.
“I learned this from Little League. You send a guy to steal second. If he makes it, you made the right decision. If he doesn’t, you’re a bum,” Owdom said. “You take a chance and luckily it worked.”
Daniel Li, playing at No. 1 singles, set the tone for Aragon as he dispatched an ailing Cale Goodman in about 45 minutes, winning both sets at love. Duan followed his teammate off the court about 15 minutes later with a 6-2, 6-2 win that gave the Dons a quick two points in the race to four.
“I was confident both Daniels (Li and Duan) would come through,” Owdom said. “[Li] said the guy (Goodman) didn’t play as well as he had in the past. Plus, [Li] was playing solid.”
Smith confirmed Goodman was dealing with a sore elbow, limiting his ability in giving Li a tougher match.
“[Goodman] had an elbow problem,” Smith said. “And he just didn’t have it today.”
Despite not having played doubles this season, Booreddy looked like a natural. He poached the net like a seasoned vet and worked well with Tang. The Dons’ duo won the first set 6-4 and were up 5-2 in the second before Burlingame’s Oliver Nix and Evan Mahaffey made one last, late run. The Panther pair won two straight games to stave off elimination, closing to 5-4, but Booreddy and Tang closed out the second set with a 6-4, win to give Aragon its penultimate team point.
The Dons locked up the win and a spot in Thursday’s final when the No. 3 doubles team of Cameron Swiecki and Sean Heffernan posted a 7-5, 6-3 victory for the fourth team point.
The final three matches of the day split the first two sets and were decided by super tiebreakers in lieu of a third set since the team match had already been decided.
Burlingame went 2-1 in those three matches to earn its two wins on the day. After Aragon completed a sweep of the three doubles matches when Jason Zhoa and Patrick Tse won 6-3, 4-6, (10-6) at No. 2 doubles, the Panthers finally got on the scoreboard with victories at No. 3 and No. 4 singles.
The No. 3 singles match between Burlingame’s Kevin Taggart and David Wu was the match of the day. Taggart won the first set rather easily, 6-3, but Wu rallied in the second, winning a second-set tiebreaker 9-7. Taggart, however, outlasted Wu in the super tiebreaker, 11-9.
Tyler Vanderley earned the Panthers’ second point at No. 4 singles. This time, it was Vanderley winning a first-set tiebreaker, 10-8, but Aragon’s Jordan Chall rebounded to win the second set 7-5. Vanderley bounced back to win the match with a 10-5 decision in the super tiebreaker.
Despite seeing his team come up short of qualifying for CCS, Smith was at peace with his team’s performance.
“I should have had an extra day off. We shouldn’t have been here,” Smith said. “[My team] had to take care of business to make the playoffs.
“This season has been very satisfying. The kids have gotten better.”