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Sage falls behind

CERRITOS — Each coach pulled out all the stops Tuesday in a key Academy League boys' tennis match.

Sage Hill Coach A.G. Longoria put his top singles player, senior Robbe Simon, at No. 3 singles.

Whitney Coach Wes Williams split up his top doubles team of Gabe Cupino and Alex Pham, putting them with other partners to try to bolster his overall doubles strength.

Maximizing the number of sets won — or even games if it came to that — is nothing new for Longoria and Williams. What were more rare were the words that came out of Longoria's mouth after the Lightning suffered a 10-8 defeat at Cerritos Regional Park.

"I got outcoached," said Longoria, a two-time California High School Tennis Coach of the Year. "They have a little bit more flexibility than us. I was worried that [Williams] would make a move. I was hoping he wouldn't, but he did. It was a great move. He got a couple more doubles matches out of the thing, but we still had a shot."

Sage Hill (7-11, 5-2 in league) no longer appears to have a shot at defending its league title after dropping to third place. Whitney (17-1, 8-1) can clinch at least a tie for first by beating Crean Lutheran on May 1.

St. Margaret's (6-1 in league) also is still in the league title conversation. Sage Hill still has two matches against its rival, Wednesday at The Tennis Club and next Tuesday on the road. Rain is expected Wednesday, and Longoria said the rivals could play back-to-back matches next Monday and Tuesday.

It's not as satisfying as winning a league title, but the Lightning can now play spoiler against the Tartans.

Williams, who is aiming for his fourth league title with the Wildcats in five years, said he hopes Sage does just that.

No. 2 St. Margaret's, No. 3 Whitney and No. 4 Sage Hill dominate the top of the CIF Southern Section Division 3 coaches' poll. But the defending CIF champion Lightning haven't figured out a way to beat Whitney. They lost on games, 74-67, in the teams' first meeting March 27.

Williams had fun with the adjustments that both teams made in the rematch.

"I thought this was a real coaches' match," he said. "It was probably one of the best that we've been in since I've been coaching."

Simon, who is Stanford-bound for academics, swept his three singles sets despite battling strep throat. The Lightning's No. 1 doubles team of Alex Manolakas and Eric Magliarditi also swept.

But Whitney won key sets. In the first round, Pham and Mitch Hoang outlasted Sage's Garrett Rapport and David Kim, 7-5, at No. 3 doubles. It helped Whitney take a 4-2 sets lead after the round.

Pham and Hoang again came up big in the second round, outlasting Sage's Ryan Lee and Denis Cirit by the same 7-5 score. Whitney opened up a 7-5 sets advantage as well, clinching the match midway through the third round.

"I teamed [Pham and Cupino] up with lesser players, and it worked," Williams said.

Rapport and Kim, as well as Lee and Cirit, did each win one of three doubles sets. But besides their losses to Simon, Whitney's singles lineup of Ruthwick Pathireddy, Sathwick Pathireddy and Vignesh Sadras cruised through their other singles sets, winning 36 of 37 games.

Simon said he hopes the Lightning see Whitney one more time, in the Division 3 playoffs.

"I think if we just can get the kinks out, we should be able to beat this team," Simon said. "I have no doubt in my mind. We were so close last time ... If we play them in CIF, we're going to have to do a lot of thinking before that match. We'll have to see what worked in the first match and what didn't, and what worked in this match and what didn't. [Longoria] will definitely be working very hard to give us every advantage that we can possibly have."

Simon, as well as the doubles team of Manolakas and Magliarditi, will be playing in the prestigious Ojai Valley Tournament beginning Thursday. They'll be in the CIF singles and doubles divisions, respectively.

matthew.szabo@latimes.com

Twitter: @mjszabo

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