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BOYS' TENNIS NOTEBOOK: VALENCIA'S ZAPALA IS FOOTHILL'S LAST SURVIVOR OUTLASTS HART'S TAOATAO TO WIN LEAGUE SINGLES TITLE.

Byline: ERIK BOAL Special to the Daily News

Jack Zapala knew that facing Valencia High teammate Ryan Lassila and Hart's Matthew Taoatao the same afternoon would be the biggest test of his season.

After six hours, six sets and 62 games, it turned into a test of will for the sophomore standout.

At the end of a grueling day of competition at The Paseo Club, Zapala was the only singles player left standing - literally - in the Foothill League boys' tennis tournament.

Zapala was awarded the league title when Taoatao, the defending champion, had to retire facing break point at 5-5 in the third set after collapsing with intense leg cramps.

``It sucks, the way it had to end, but tennis is a difficult sport,'' said Zapala, who dropped the first set to Taoatao 7-6 (7-4), then won the second 6-4. ``It was really, really, really tough. But somehow in my mind, I knew I could win.''

Although Zapala surrendered the final four points of the tiebreaker to Taoatao, his confidence never wavered. He won the final two games in the second set to halt Taoatao's league winning streak at 73 sets - the first loss since the 2004 semifinals.

Taoatao had to work to extend the streak in the semifinals, rallying from a 5-1 second-set deficit against Valencia's Carlos Ruiz to prevail 6-4, 7-5.

The toll from that match, combined with two grueling sets against Zapala, led to increased cramping that hindered Taoatao throughout the final set.

``I knew if I tried my hardest and kept him out on the court as long as I could, I'd have a good shot,'' said Zapala, who rallied from a set down against Lassila to record a 6-7 (4-7), 6-2, 6-1 semifinal victory. ``Even when I was down 5-2 in the first set to Ryan and I fought it out all the way to the tiebreaker, I knew I could pull out the final two sets and win. And then Carlos kept Matt out there a long time, which helped me out.''

With the help of prolonged breaks between games to stretch and have his legs massaged, Taoatao managed to lead 5-4 in the final set and had three match points on Zapala's serve.

But Zapala rallied to force an 11th game, and after Taoatao hit an errant forehand to give his opponent a break point, the Hart standout fell to the ground.

Taoatao was attended to by his parents and Hart coach Chris Mansfield. Following a 10-minute delay, he reluctantly retired before being helped off the court.

``I knew if I could just keep him out there a tiny bit longer, he'd continue to (struggle),'' Zapala said. ``I knew if I hit the ball at some tough angles, it would be hard for him to get them back. But I had to focus and concentrate my butt off and not think about him. I just had to think about the next point.''

It was a bittersweet end to Taoatao's league career. He had won all 38 sets in Foothill competition last season, 28 in the regular season this year and his first seven sets in the Foothill tournament.

``It's a tough break for Matt, but it was a classic match,'' Valencia coach Annie Kellogg said. ``For Jack to come back from love-40 down on his serve and fight off three match points, that was unbelievable.''

Perfect pairing: Luke Guidroz reached two Southern Section individual tournaments in his first three years, but he never enjoyed much success.

Beamer Smith struggled to advance past the first day of the Foothill tournament.

When the long-time friends joined forces for the first time Monday, it seemed an ideal match for Canyon in the league doubles tournament.

The result Tuesday was a perfect, eight-match run and a league title.

After knocking off top-seeded Kevin Cho and Ankur Sachdeva of Hart in the semifinals, Guidroz and Smith overcame a three-game deficit in the opening set of the final to defeat the Indians' Otto DeGreiff and Richard Mendelson 7-5, 6-2.

``Beating Ankur and Kevin really gave us a confidence boost, and it meant a lot,'' Smith said. ``After that, we felt like we couldn't be beat.''

With the top four seeds knocked out before the final - two on the first day - a favorable path opened for Guidroz and Smith to reach the semifinals.

Despite squandering a 5-1 second-set lead, they held on to defeat Cho and Sachdeva 6-4, 7-6 (7-4).

``I didn't think the seeds really mattered,'' Guidroz said. ``It really didn't affect me and Beamer. We knew these teams had never really played us, so we figured anyone could win it.''

The singles and doubles finalists advance to the Southern Section individual tournament, which begins May 19.

erik.boal(at)dailynews.com

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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:May 4, 2006
Words:795
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