All eyes were on Kyle Wilczak and Mason Lebby.
The players, coaches, family and fans of the Santa Ynez Pirates and Laguna Beach Breakers crowded around Court 2 Wednesday afternoon at Santa Ynez High School to watch the decisive set.
The winner of that matchup — the final set of their CIF Southern Section Division 4 boys tennis semifinal — would send his team to the championships.
When Breakers’ No. 1 seed Lebby defeated the Pirates’ No. 3 Wilczak 7-5, it sent the Breakers into Friday’s title match at the Claremont Club against Redlands East Valley, which defeated Bolsa Grande 12-6 in Wednesday’s other semi.
The Orange Coast League champion Breakers (15-5, 8-0 OCL) battled back in the third round to end the match tied 9-all with the Los Padres League champion Pirates (19-5, 8-0 LPL).
The first tiebreaker in high school tennis is the number of games won.
Laguna Beach pulled out the slimmest of victories, edging Santa Ynez 76-75 in games.
“It doesn’t get more exciting than that,” said Santa Ynez head coach Steve Dunning. “We played 18 total sets and we lost by one game. That final set between Kyle and Mason was a real battle but it didn’t really determine the outcome of the match. If we’d won two more games earlier in today’s semifinal, the match would have swung our way.”
“You want these close matches — of course you want to win them,” said Laguna Beach coach Rick Conkey. “After the second round, we were down 7-5, so I held a quick team meeting. I told them that we earned the right to be here. That being under this kind of pressure is a privilege and that the team that applied the most pressure in the final round would end up with the win.”
The match was even, at 3-3, after the first round.
The Pirates pulled ahead 7-5 after the second.
Santa Ynez led 9-8 when everyone descended one Court 2 to watch the decisive set.
The math had already been done.
If Wilczak won, there was no math needed, the Pirates would move on with a 10-8 win.
The Pirates held a 70-69 edge in games but if the set swung Lebby’s way, it would be the Breakers who eked out the victory.
That final set was a barnburner.
The players matched each other shot for shot with almost every point contested in a set filled with long rallies.
Both players held serve until Wilczak broke through to tie the set at 5-all.
The next game went to deuce twice before Lebby was able to break back.
When Lebby raced through the next game, it was game, set and match for the Breakers.
“Mason is only a freshman and in that last set he handled himself beautifully,” said Conkey.
Santa Ynez’s No. 1 singles player Braxton Johnson won one of his three sets, 6-2.
The Pirates No. 2 singles player Darren Hinkens also won one set, 6-4.
Nick Besso, subbing in for Lebby, won two sets, 6-3 and 6-1.
Laguna Beach’s No. 2 singles Andrew Johnson won two of his three, 6-1 and 6-0.
The Pirates No. 1 double team, Cooper Owens and Ryan Rennick swept their three sets, 6-2, 6-0 and came back in their final set from being down 3-4 to win it 6-4.
“We did everything we could to win all our matches, not just Ryan and me but the whole team,” said Owens. “We haven’t been this far into the playoffs in a while. The whole team did great.”
Santa Ynez’s No. 2 doubles, Max Porter and Neil Collison won two of three, 6-1, 6-3, while Laguna Beach’s No. 3 doubles Kyle Henkins and Francis Pillsbury won two of their sets, 6-4 and 6-2.
“It was very competitive all day,” said Conkey. “We were very, very lucky to win this match. It could easily have gone the other way.”
“This is how you want a semifinal to go,” said Dunning. “It was a total team effort and we had the best effort from every player. But you have to give credit to Laguna Beach. They are a great team.”
“We got to the (CIF-SS) finals my freshman and sophomore years and didn’t win. This is the first time we have a true shot at winning it all,” said Besso, one of only two seniors on the Breakers’ squad. “What an emotional roller coaster. This is the quintessential example of ‘it’s not over ‘til it’s over.’”