Arroyo Grande High’s girls tennis team won by a sliver Monday in the quarterfinals of the CIF-Southern Section Division 3 playoffs, edging Vista Murrieta on the road by a point in the tiebreaker.
In the semifinals at home Wednesday against Malibu, the margin was tight as well but comparably much more comfortable.
The Eagles (20-1) won 10-8, led by a 6-0, 6-0, 6-0 performance from their No. 1 singles player, Sophie Whittle, who improved to 55-0 overall this season.
And their No. 2 singles player, Lauren Hayashi, won two of three matches, 6-0, 2-6, 6-0. Hayashi is now 58-5 on the season.
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Arroyo Grande returns to the Division 3 finals for the second straight year after finishing as the runner-up with a loss in the championship match to Laguna Hills last season.
The Eagles will face Murrieta Valley at 10:30 a.m. Friday in Claremont.
Whittle beat Malibu’s No. 1 player, Lauren Louks, trading crisp ground strokes with the Sharks’ standout senior.
Whittle, a junior, hit flat shots with pace that often found the baseline for winners and pushed Louks back on her heels to gain the upper hand.
“Sophie played the best match of her season against (Louks),” Arroyo Grande coach Lori Hollister said. “She was facing a really good player, and she played phenomenally.”
Whittle said after a slow start Monday, the Eagles knew they had to come out aggressively against Malibu (14-4).
“We knew what we needed to do,” Whittle said. “We had a big crowd today, and that was really nice to have that support. … I think we’re peaking at the right time.”
Unlike Monday’s match, in which Arroyo Grande trailed 4-2 after the first round, the Eagles seized a 4-2 lead in round one Wednesday.
Melina Rodgers, Arroyo Grande’s No. 3 singles player, battled back from a 3-1 deficit to win her first match 7-5. Rodgers won two of her three matches — 7-5, 6-3, 0-6.
And even though the Eagles would have won a tiebreaker in games, their doubles team of Joanne Phung and Angelica Gagliano finished with a 7-5 win to seal the 10-8 victory with all eyes focused on the match.
Phung and Gagliano won two of three sets — 6-4, 2-6, 7-5. They came down from a 4-3 deficit to win the final set.
“It was really nice to have the whole team watching,” Gagliano said. “It was good we came out strong. I’m really glad to have Joanne as a partner.”
In one critical point, Phung handled a shot rocketed to her at the net. She not only got her racket on the ball but volleyed it to the back of the court for a winner.
Phung also was a force on serve, getting her first serve in with pace and location.
“Our coach just told us to maintain our composure,” Phung said. “I knew it was important to hold serve. I’m really excited and proud of the team that we’re going to finals.”
Hayashi said the Eagles’ hard work has paid off to get to this point.
“We’ve put in a lot of hours,” Hayashi said. “Coach Hollister, she puts in a lot of extra hours for us. I’m really excited about the finals.”