Claremont’s Clarke Spinosa (above) won all three of his sets on Wednesday to help the Wolfpack to a 12-6 victory.
Given that all matches must begin 0-0, the score was the only edge the Claremont High School boys tennis team entered Wednesday’s CIF-SS Division 3 championship match without.
On the collective mind of opponent Placentia Valencia was the sound defeat it absorbed from Claremont in last year’s CIF title match. Only this year Claremont entered as a No. 1 seed that hadn’t lost a match all season. Once the score turned in Claremont’s favor courtesy of a 4-2 edge after the first round, everything was in motion for the Wolfpack’s eventual 12-6 win that gave the it a 19-0 record and a second consecutive CIF championship.
“(Valencia) had more pressure on them because of last year and they just wanted it really badly,” Claremont coach Tom Spinosa said. “If you want it that badly you can’t relax.”
Claremont No. 1 singles player Clarke Spinosa, Tom’s son and the runner-up in the CIF-SS individual tournament after he was forced to retire with in injury in Saturday’s final, won all three of his sets. It was the Claremont doubles teams, however, that provided the difference by claiming seven of nine available sets.
Claremont’s usual top doubles team of Trevor James and Carter Hafif, who won their first two sets, was switched to the No. 3 spot in an attempt to assure the Wolfpack early points. The plan worked to perfection as James and Hafif defeated the Valencia No. 3 doubles team 6-2 while the Claremont No. 2 doubles team of Frank Liu and Scott Donaldson grinded out a crucial 6-4 win over the Valencia No. 2 team.
Claremont’s usual No. 3 team playing in the No. 1 spot was beaten by the Valencia No. 1 team but its 6-4 loss may have been what set up the match’s pivotal set.
With Valencia trailing 7-4 in the overall standings, the last match of the second round ended with Valencia’s No. 1 doubles duo losing a decisive set tiebreaker, 7-3, to Claremont’s No. 2 team of Liu and Donaldson that left Claremont just two sets from victory.
“That sealed it so to speak,” Tom Spinosa said. “It allowed the guys to take a breath going into the last round. Really it was winning the first round that gave us the psychological edge. It allowed the kids to see the finish line and it really gave (Valencia) a mountain to climb.”
In another strategic switch, Claremont’s usual No. 2 singles player, freshman Alan Leahy, played in the No. 3 spot which led to his 6-2 victory over Valencia’s No. 3 singles player in the all-important first round.
The Wolfpack was certainly counting on a first-round win from Clarke Spinosa but the senior had his serve broken in dropping three consecutive games to Valencia No. 1 Curtis Wu. Spinosa battled back from a 3-2 deficit in gritty fashion to claim the set 6-4.
“I was up 2-0 then all of a sudden I got really tired and my legs were a little shot,” Clarke Spinosa said. “I’ve been playing CIF individuals so I think that had something to do with it. But I fought back and pulled it out. I’m glad I did because it would have been 3-3 after the first round if I hadn’t.”
Claremont knows what it feels like to trail 4-2. That was the deficit the Wolfpack faced in the semifinals before eventually tying the match and prevailing on a tiebreaking advantage in games. That was how close Claremont came to missing out on an undefeated season and second consecutive CIF title. Instead Six seniors will graduate having made school history.