Sage Hill School girls' tennis coach A.G. Longoria said his team lost its mojo on Monday. Tuesday, it lost its best chance at claiming its second consecutive outright Academy League championship by sustaining its second setback in two days, a 10-8 defeat at the hands of league rival Oxford Academy at The Tennis Club in Newport Beach.
But should the Lightning manage to handle Whitney in their league finale at home on Friday, Longoria's group will have become the league's biggest winners.
A victory over Whitney, which the Lightning crushed, 16-2, on Oct. 8, as well as an Oxford triumph over Crean Lutheran, would create a three-way tie atop the final league standings.
And while Oxford and St. Margaret's could boast a share of the tri-championship, Sage Hill, by virtue of head-to-head match scores, would emerge as the league's No. 1 representative in the CIF Southern Section Division 2 playoffs.
Sage defeated both Oxford Academy and St. Margaret's 12-6 earlier this season, while also dropping 10-8 verdicts to its fellow Academy elite. The score differential would make Sage the No. 1 playoff representative from the league. Such status should pay dividends in a much more favorable route in the CIF playoffs.
Sage Hill (11-5, 5-2 in league), ranked No. 8 in Division 2, would likely face a second or third-place team in the first round of the playoffs, per CIF guidelines. No. 2 league representatives generally match up with fellow No. 2s, while the No. 3 league representative most often receives the challenge of battling a league champion on the road in the opening round.
St, Margaret's, which barring upsets Friday would be the No. 2 league representative, was ranked No. 9 in the latest poll, released Oct. 21.
Oxford had been ranked No. 4 in the previous Division 2 poll, before dropping out of the Top 10 on Oct. 21.
"Oxford will probably come back in the top 10, giving our league three teams there," Longoria said.
Sage Hill appeared on the verge of improving its own final ranking, and dropping Oxford into third place, behind St. Margaret's, when senior Briana Rayhaun and sophomore partner Connie Yu, the Lightning's No. 1 doubles pairing, held serve to create a 4-3 advantage in the final set of the match.
But Oxford's Angela and Andrea Kim turned the tables for a 7-5 victory. Combined with another 7-5 verdict by the visitors' No. 1 doubles team over Sage's No. 3 doubles pairing, and the Patriots won four of six sets in the final round to prevail.
The Lightning, led by No. 2 singles player Jaclyn Gerschultz, a sophomore, as well as No. 2 doubles partners Tess Alexander, a junior, and sophomore Marina Anderson, both of which won two of three sets, assumed a 4-2 advantage after one round.
And while the Patriots pulled even at the end of two rounds, Sage held a 50-44 advantage on games.
But the visitors, who also won five of nine singles sets, claimed the two close doubles victories in the final round, against a doubles lineup that Longoria said has been reeling since Monday.
"We had a [12-6 nonleague loss to Laguna Beach, ranked No. 3 in division 2] in which we lost our cool and lost our mojo," Longoria said. "I knew it was going to affect us today. We had no confidence in our doubles."
Still, with five sophomores, one freshman and three juniors among the 10 players who played on Tuesday, Sage Hill has plenty to be proud of this season.
"We were picked to finish fourth, behind St. Margaret's, Oxford Academy and Crean Lutheran," Longoria said. "We're a young team and most of the people we have were either non-starters or were on the junior varsity team last season, when we were undefeated league champs."
Sophomore Celine Wong and junior Amira Tarsadia each won one singles set, while sophomore Natalie Meltzer teamed with Yu to post one doubles triumph for the hosts.
The remaining Sage Hill point was provided by the No. 3 doubles team of junior Abby Ruck and freshman Crystal Yu.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun