Palisades High School is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year and the boys tennis team dug deep to produce a historic victory Thurday afternoon at Balboa Sports Center in Encino.
The City Section championship came down to the final set but Joe Silvers sealed the deal with his clutch 6-0 triumph over El Camino Real's Nick Koretsky to make the Dolphins winners by the slimmest possible margin, 15 points to 14 1/2, and clinch Palisades' 50th tennis title since the school opened in 1961.
Silvers dropped only one game in his four sets at No. 1 singles and he knew the outcome rested on his racket as he took the court against Koretsky.
"I was aware of the situation and I wasn't surprised," Silvers said of his decisive final set. "They [ECR] have good singles players and I expected a tough match. I thought if I didn't sweep, we wouldn't win. I liked that we had to have a battle to get this one."
Sam Catanzaro won two sets at the No. 2 singles spot and his 6-2 victory over ECR freshman Gabriel Joseph brought Palisades to within one point of the title.
Spencer Pekar and Alex Nam won two out of three sets at No. 1 doubles, Bailey Joseph and Austin Gingold took one set at No. 3 doubles and Brendel Palumbo partnered with Robert Silvers to sweep at No. 2 doubles for the Dolphins (18-2), who won their fourth section title in a row despite their two best players being ruled ineligible early in the season.
"This is the same feeling to me as the first one," said Pekar, a senior co-captain who has won City every year since he was a freshman and took the Individual doubles championship with Catanzaro last spring. "No, we don't have as much depth but it feels great to win with not our best team."
Jaime Barajas and E.J. Laredo each won three out of four singles sets and Ezra Soriano and Dominik Barillas won two out of three sets at No. 1 doubles for the third-seeded Conquistadores (14-3), who avenged two losses to West Valley League rival Granada Hills with a 15 1/2 to 14 semifinal victory on Monday. In that match, Koretsky lost his first three sets but rebounded to clinch ECR's win.
"Three-peating was nice and four in a row is even sweeter," said Bud Kling, who has coached many talented teams since taking over Palisades' boys program in 1979. The winningest coach in any sport in City Section history, he has piloted the Dolphins to 35 section titles (20 with the boys and 15 with the girls) while amassing 966 career victories against only 100 losses.
"It's hard to rank them, but this is gratifying because everyone came together and contributed," Kling said. "We did it without guys we thought we'd have all season and as a result some players were in spots they hadn't played before or didn't want to be in. They sacrificed for the team and that's what it's all about."
The Dolphins have captured 30 boys titles and 20 girls titles and few have been as dramatic as this one. For most of the match it appeared that El Camino Real would pull off a huge upset because the Conquistadores prevailed in sets they weren't expected to win on paper.
"Breaking down the match I thought there were eight sets that could go either way and ECR won six of them," Kling said. "That's why this ended up being as close as it was. They played extremely well and we were fortunate to come out on top."
Nearly knocking off the top seed was no small consolation for El Camino Real Coach Mike Lannom, who praised the opposition and vowed his team would be back.
"Almost doesn't quite get it done, but we've got a young team and I'm really proud of all our kids," Lannom said. "Palisades is so good and there's very little margin for error if you want to beat them. We gave it a great shot and I hope this motivates us."
With most of the team returning next year, the Dolphins will begin their "Drive for Five" as the favorites to equal the City record for successive titles. Palisades won five straight from 1969-73 and again from 1995-99. ECR won five in a row from 2000-04.
Joe Silvers' immediate goal, however, is to win the Individual singles title. He is the No. 1 seed in the tournament, which will start next week. Pekar and Robert Silvers are seeded first in the doubles draw.
"Winning Individuals is important to me," Joe Silvers said. "I want to improve my [junior] ranking and that would be a good thing to win."
CITY SECTION CHAMPIONSHIP
Palisades 15, El Camino Real 14 1/2
Joe Silvers, Palisades, d. Jaime Barajas, 6-1; d. Nick Koretsky, 6-0; d. E.J. Laredo, 6-0; d. Gabriel Joseph, 6-0. Sam Catanzaro, Palisades, lost to Barajas, 6-2; d. Koretsky, 6-0; lost to Laredo, 6-0; d. Joseph, 6-2. Ryan Schindler, Palisades, lost to Barajas, 6-2; lost to Koretsky, 7-5; lost to Laredo, 6-2, lost to Joseph, 6-0. Alex Mack, Palisades, lost to Barajas, 6-0; lost to Koretsky, 6-0; lost to Laredo, 6-1; lost to Joseph, 6-2.
Spencer Pekar-Alex Nam, Palisades, lost to Ezra Soriano-Dominik Barillas, 6-2; d. Micah Soriano-Albert Weng, 6-2; d. Zach Jaeger-Yevgeny Derkatch, 6-2. Robert Silvers-Brendel Palumbo, Palisades, d. E. Soriano-Barillas, 6-0; d. M. Soriano-Weng, 6-1; d. Jaeger-Derkatch, 6-1. Bailey Joseph-Austin Gingold, Palisades, lost to E. Soriano-Barillas, 6-1; lost to M. Soriano-Weng, 6-2; d. Jaeger-Derkatch, 6-3.
Records: El Camino Real 14-3; Palisades 18-2.