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Boys tennis: Fairview Knights one point off team lead at state

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DENVER — Fairview High senior Johnny Combs called Friday “judgment day” for the Knights tennis team. And after a pair of semifinal losses to Cherry Creek early, the outlook for FHS’ team title hopes looked grim.

But by the time Friday’s seven hours of Class 5A state tournament play wrapped up at Gates Tennis Center, the resilient Knights found themselves still in the hunt.

Four positions reached today’s finals, and the other three clawed their way through playbacks and will play for third place this morning. All matches begin at 9 a.m.

Cherry Creek — winner of 36 of the last 39 boys big school crowns — leads the team race with 65 points. Fairview is second at 64, while Grand Junction (40) is third and Boulder (19) is fourth.

“Don’t count us out yet,” said Combs, a senior who will play for the championship at No. 2 singles after beating Legend’s Luke Whalen in the semis.

Both Fairview and Creek could score up to 18 points today. But topping the Bruins, a 6-1 dual winner over FHS this fall, won’t be easy.

They have all but their No. 1 singles spot alive and in championship matches today, including four head-to-head matchups with the Knights. FHS will likely need to win at least three of those to earn the team title.

“It’s definitely doable,” said FHS coach Chad Tsuda, a two-time state champ for the Knights in the early 2000s. “I think a few things will have to go our way. But for us, we’re going to keep the same mentality we’ve had all year and just play one point at a time and try not to think about the big picture.”

Along with Combs, Ignatius Castelino (3 singles), Tommy Mason and Andrew Pollack (3 doubles), and Ben Krahenbuhl and Nick Blanco (4 doubles) will play for titles.

Combs, who will face Creek’s Zach Fryer today, hasn’t spent much time on the court this week. He wrapped up a pair of easy wins Thursday before routing Whalen 6-3, 6-0.

“Our coaches have just been telling us to have fun, and why play the sport if it’s not fun,” Combs said. “So I’m just going out there relaxed and it’s really helped my game.”

Castelino was a 6-2, 6-3 winner over Sam Buffington of Fort Collins in Friday’s semis. Pollack and Mason topped Grand Junction’s Gabe Campos and Jeff Hansen 6-4, 7-5. And Krahenbuhl and Blanco won 6-1, 6-1 over Junction’s Matt Prinster and Aaron Gossage.

Castelino, Pollack and Mason are all freshmen.

“We’ve never been to state before,” Pollack said. “We’ve never felt the intensity of everything, and it’s really exciting. We’re all kind of jumping up and down inside.”

The biggest drama of the day came in the No. 1 doubles semifinals.

After Creek had beaten FHS’ Dakota Muench and Connor Corrigan at No. 2, it looked like Fairview’s title hopes might be sunk unless Kevin Chen and Brock DeHaven could top CCHS’ Jack Greene and Spencer Anderson at No. 1.

Trailing 4-1 early in the third set, the FHS duo battled back and had three break points to go up 5-4 and serve for the match. But Creek got out of the jam and closed out a 6-1, 4-6, 6-4 triumph.

The loss was a tough blow, but the Knights rolled to playback victories at 1 and 2 doubles to stay alive. And Eli Winegardner, a quarterfinal loser on Thursday, won a pair of playbacks at No. 1 singles to earn his shot at third today.

The Knights also got a boost when Denver East’s Matt Sayre beat Creek’s Max Roder in a 1 singles playback, denying Creek of seven key team points.

“We really wanted to win (in semifinals) because I feel like we had a really good chance to win state this year,” DeHaven said. “But we’ll just come out and try to get third and cheer for everybody else. We still have a chance (at the team title).”