As his match-clinching ace screamed past his opponent untouched and smashed into the fence, Mason Hansen jumped in the air and roared, “Let’s go! Let’s go Tigers!”
Hansen, No. 1 singles on the San Luis Obispo High boys tennis team, was expected to win the set against Long Beach Wilson’s third-best singles player, but that didn’t stop him from emphatically pumping his fist as he bellowed.
“Normally, when you’re up big you wouldn’t cheer as loud, but you just keep it going,” the senior said after Monday’s 13-5 home victory. “It doesn’t matter if you’re up 5-0 and 40-love, you want to keep the energy going to pump the other guys up.”
He and the rest of the Tigers are one step closer to the ultimate celebration.
San Luis Obispo jumped out to a quick start, the top two doubles teams swept their sets, and Hansen’s third victory of the day sent the Tigers into the CIF-Southern Section Division 3 semifinals for the second year in a row.
“We knew this was going to be a tough match coming in compared to our last couple matches,” said Hansen, who won his sets 6-0, 6-3, 6-2. “We just came out with energy and proved it. Last year, we had energy like this and it worked all the way to the finals. So, we’re going to keep it the same.”
It was Wilson which the Tigers upset in last year’s semifinals, 10-8 in Long Beach, before falling in the final to local rival Arroyo Grande.
This time around, it was the Moore League’s Bruins looking to upend the bracket’s second seed, but San Luis Obispo won all the close matches in the first rotation to take a 5-1 lead.
“Obviously, it’s huge to get up that big,” coach Ken Peet said. “It’s tough to come back, and so, that put us in a great spot. It easily could have been 3-all after that first one, and then it’s a totally different mojo.”
All three doubles teams won in the first rotation, as the top pairing of Josh Milla and Luke Olson broke their opponents’ serve to force a tiebreaker before prevailing 7-6 (7-5). The two rounded out their day by winning their final two sets 6-3, 7-6 (7-4).
The duo of juniors Noah Cleere and Alex Dill followed suit with victories of 6-3, 7-5, 6-1.
“We had a couple games where we were missing a lot of returns,” Cleere said of the 7-5 win over Wilson’s top pair, “and we really just had to hone in on those and correct our mistakes to get through that one.”
Cleere and Dill used their knowledge of the court to their advantage in the set, consistently kicking serves and ground strokes toward the side of the court with a fence in close proximity.
Peet assured the fence is a legal distance from the court, but coach and player alike recognized the strategy.
“I had about five winners on that,” Dill added.
The doubles team of Scott Hicks and Adie Alwen won two of three sets, and singles players Cameron Dong and Chase Braun both picked up a point.
As they did in last week’s second-round victory at Oak Park, the Tigers played without No. 2 singles player Ryan Hsieh on Monday. Peet said Hsieh is in Taiwan for a family emergency, and that Dong and Braun have done a good job filling in.
“You don’t like missing anybody, but things happen, and that’s the key of team,” Peet said. “That’s why you have 12 guys instead of nine.”
The Tigers will face Cypress or Great Oak in Wednesday’s semifinals. Great Oak would host San Luis Obispo, and the location between the Tigers and third-seeded Cypress would come down to a coin flip.
San Luis Obispo hopes to play one more match within the confines of its advantageous fences before a potential second straight trip to the championship Friday in Claremont.
Three matches in one week can be a drain, but Hansen said the team is conditioned and energized for the most important stretch of the season.
“If we keep playing like we’re playing — with all of this energy — and we come out strong, it’s hard to see anything stopping us,” he said. “We fight with a lot of energy, and that’s how we play.
“We’ve been working for this since the beginning of the year, conditioning hard since the first day, so we’re ready for this. We’re ready to go all the way.”