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CHS tennis cliffhanger tilts to Bulldogs

After 3.5 hours of tennis Tuesday at Claremont High School, the Pack’s undefeated season came down to the final set of the day.

Claremont’s Kristin Hernandez and Salma Mohideen were tied with Ayala’s Denise Yokota and Tina Chang, 6-6, setting up a tiebreaker. In front of a cheering crowd, Claremont had the advantage three times and Ayala twice before the Bulldogs finally won 11-9.

However, the drama was not over because Ayala’s win in that final set meant the two teams were now tied 9-9 on sets. The victor would be chosen based on the number of games won.

In the darkness—play had to be moved to lighted courts at Cahuilla Park—the stats were tallied and Ayala won by two games, 86-84. It was a tough loss for Claremont, the girls have come a long way from their fourth place finish last year, but they did not let any disappointment show as they congratulated the Bulldogs.

The dramatic play took place all day, with many sets coming down to the wire. Claremont had a slight lead after the first round, but soon the sets were tied.

In the crucial third round, Claremont’s Jillian Ontiveros and Grace Wride were losing 2-5 to Ayala’s Kyra Lee and Loren Tayag. This was one of three doubles matches that were contested into the darkness, and Claremont needed to win. With determination, Ontiveros and Wride won the next five games, claiming the 7-5 victory.

“We started to focus and played smart,” Ontiveros said. “We tried to be more active at the net and anticipated what they would do.”

Number one singles player, freshman Goldie La, continued her streak by winning all three of her sets. La made it to the quarterfinals of a level II tournament over the weekend and is ranked 14th in the USTA Southern California, 14-year-old division, according to her father John La.

“One match at a time,” Claremont Coach Kathy Settles said as the competition tightened.

“It’s a big turnaround from last year,” she said. “I am happy for our seniors because we will be going to CIF for sure.”

Claremont won 11-7 the first time the two teams met back in late September, so Tuesday’s match was a must-win for the Bulldogs.

Ayala parent David Yokota was keeping stats for his daughter’s team and as the night wore on, it was clear it was coming down to the last few sets. “It’s a cliffhanger, he said, this one is going down to the wire.”

The crowd gathered to watch that final tiebreaker—including parents and teammates—was glued to the action with bursts of cheers whenever a point was scored. As the lead switched back and forth, the fans on both side alternated between excitement and worry. As Ayala claimed their victory the girls rushed onto the court.

“It was a nail bitter until the very end,” said Ayala Coach Paulette Ojinaga. “It really took my breath away.”

Claremont lost the day, but the girls are true champions, sharing first place in the Palomares League with Ayala. The teams will likely be co-league champions when the regular season ends this week.

After the match Coach Settles honored the seniors who had just finished their last home match and thanked them for mentoring their younger teammates.

“It has been a great season and the seniors have been awesome,” she said. “These are memories you will have forever and friends you will keep forever.”

Claremont’s last league match was at Diamond Bar on Thursday after press time. Post season begins with league prelims on Tuesday at the Claremont Club.

—Steven Felschundneff

steven@claremont-courier.com