River Hill tennis coach Matt Graves thought this would be a rebuilding year for his boys team. After all, the defending champion Hawks had graduated eight seniors.
It didn't happen.
The Hawks, without a senior on its roster, clinched its second straight boys title Friday with a thrilling 3-2 victory before an appreciative crowd at Hammond.
The Golden Bears (13-3), who handed the Hawks (15-1) their only loss of the season in early April, took a 2-1 lead after the doubles matches.
Hammond's No. 1 doubles team of Greg Kennedy and Te Basoor defeated River Hill's Andrew Chow and Paul Kang, 8-3, and its No. 3 team of Ricky Leshin and Jason Morenstein edged George Sirois and Shaan Raja, 8-6.
River Hill's No. 2 team of Matt Kaminski and Tim Ahn upended Kenny Cheung and Geoff Deutsch, 8-2.
The No. 2 singles match finished next, and River Hill's Matt Langan tied the team score with a 9-7 victory over Mike Sandler. Down a game, Sandler won two straight for a 7-6 lead. But Langan rallied to win the next three games to remain unbeaten.
That left the No. 1 singles players - River Hill's Britt Boras and Hammond's Dan Merti, both juniors - to decide the final outcome. And by the time they had ended, a large crowd had surrounded the fence to watch.
"That's the most people I've seen watching a match since I've been here in Howard County," said Graves, who is coaching his second season. "Everybody was on the edge of their seat watching that final match."
Merti started strong and took a 3-0 lead. But Boras came back for an 8-5 victory to remain unbeaten and give the Hawks their second championship.
"It's tough being down 3-0, but Britt really dug down deep and showed a big heart," said Graves.
"It really was great tennis to watch," said Hammond coach John DiPaula of the final match. "Both had a lot of big serves and strong winners."
DiPaula said his two singles player "left it all out on the court. I'm proud of them. Dan and Mike lost, but they probably played the best tennis of their life."
Both coaches said the importance of the match along with the fan support from both schools made it a great environment for the players.
"It was neat to see," DiPaula said.
There are two more regular-season matches scheduled tomorrow and on May 15. Glenelg (16-0) has clinched the girls title behind the undefeated play singles players Marianne Baker (sophomore) and Julia Facchina (freshman). Becca Gaylor and Monica Marrie, the Gladiators No. 2 doubles team, also are undefeated.
The county tournament begins Wednesday at 3 p.m. at the Wilde Lake Tennis Club and continues through the championships Saturday morning. Seeding for the tournament will be held tomorrow.
Here are final club standings: Mount Hebron 21-0; Howard 15 1/2 -5 1/2 ; Oakland Mills 14-7; Centennial 11 1/2 -9 1/2 ; River Hill 10 1/2 - 10 1/2 ; River Hill II 6 1/2 -14 1/2 ; Wilde Lake 3-18; Glenelg 2-19.
Jeff Castle of Mount Hebron won the individual championship by shooting a 74 at the Turf Valley North course. Scott Spranklin of Oakland Mills was second with a 75, followed by Josh Notes, Oakland Mills, 80; Brent Kennedy, Howard, 82; Tyler Hairston, River Hill, 83; Dale Jun, Mount Hebron, 86; Blair Kennedy, Howard, 87; Ryan Shevland, River Hill, 92.
The tournament draw for lacrosse will be held tomorrow and for baseball and softball on Tuesday in Baltimore County's Greenwood office in Towson. The draw, which is open to the public, will begin at 6 p.m. both days.
Lacrosse regionals begin Thursday, and baseball and softball on Friday.