DENVER — Ignatius Castelino is not the type of kid to show too much emotion.
But after three straight seasons of nearly climbing to the precipice of the tennis mountain only to be turned away at the last possible moment, the inner cauldron had to be close to boiling over.
But he would never admit it.
On Saturday, the Fairview senior was nearly turned away again. After dropping the first set to Cherry Creek sophomore Ethan Hillis, Castelino stared two match points against him square in the eye and didn’t blink.
Instead, with all the moxy of a battle-tested veteran, Castelino rallied to not only to force a third set, but finally win that elusive title 1-6, 7-6 (1), 7-5 to go out a champion at No. 1 singles at the Gates Tennis Center.
“This feels amazing, like something that could have happened the last three years, and it finally did and I’m so happy,” Castelino said. “It’s the best way to go out, senior year, state champ.”
After a tentative start, Castelino, who admitted he “was ready to pack up the bags, I thought I was done,” slowly started to dictate points and move Hillis around the court, the same way Hillis did in the first set. But instead of moving him side-to-side on the baseline, Castelino tried to draw his opponent to the net and when that wasn’t available, get to the net himself.
“I was trying to enforce the fact he needed to come to the net and especially when he got that short ball,” said Tsuda, whose sage advice as a former state champion did not fall upon deaf ears. “It was nerve-wracking for both players today, but the main thing was that he kept his composure and that he didn’t let his lead take over.”
In the third, Castelino was broken right away, but quickly turned that around to jump out 5-2. In the bag, right?
Not quite. Hillis had one last fight in him and got back on serve with a huge break of Castelino’s serve at love.
A marathon 11th game, that featured five deuces, was finally won by Castelino. But earning another break with so much on the line was going to be a lot to ask.
“I sort of let off the handle when I went up 5-2 and he took advantage of it,” said Castelino, who lost twice during the regular season to Hillis. “But I managed to take it back.”
In the final game of the match, Castelino finally got his championship point after Hillis’ unforced error. But Hillis’ emotion got the better of him after the mistake, and when he slammed his racquet down in disgust, the chair umpire had seen enough of the ongoing shenanigans and penalized him a point for racquet abuse, thus ending the match.
“He battled all day and Ignatius certainly deserved this,” Tsuda said.
Castelino’s win put a cherry on top of a banner day for the Knights. Prior to his victory, junior Alec Leddon was the first off the court after a 6-0, 6-0 blitzing of Cherry Creek’s Robby Hill in the state final at No. 3 singles.
“I knew I had to play really well to beat him, and I played really well,” said Leddon, who was off the court in just under an hour. “The experience helped me a lot, especially knowing what to expect with the crowds and everything.
“It means a lot, especially to beat Creek in the final too. It means a ton to me and also to my team.”
The Knights, who ultimately finished second in the team standing with 58 points to the Bruins’ 83, finished off the singles sweep with a championship win by Tommy Mason at No. 2 singles.
Mason, who had not faced Creek’s Harshil Dwivedi this season, rolled to his second state title (he won a No. 1 doubles title in 2012 with Kevin Chen) 6-4, 6-1.
“This is what we play tennis for, those type of matches,” said Mason, who also competed in the finals all four years he played. “I know what it is like to beat Creek in the finals and the pressure that is on you the whole time. And that really helps you get through the last few games, cause when you are up big you have a tendency to relax.
“But I also knew how good a player he is, so I knew I just had to buckle down and get the win.”
Boulder had its first top-five team finish since 2011. The Panthers made up ground in the playbacks. Kap Smith and Cutter Esson both won their third-place matches for the Panthers, who finished with 42 team points.
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Class 5A state tournament
At Gates Tennis Center
Team scores — Cherry Creek 83, Fairview 58, Denver East 45, Boulder 42, Regis Jesuit 29, Fossil Ridge 28, Mountain Vista 17, Chatfield 6, Monarch 4, Arapahoe 3, Fort Collins 2, Legend 2, Broomfield 2, Castle View 2, Grand Junction 1, Loveland 1, Arvada West 1, Heritage 1.
No. 1 singles — Ignatius Castelino, Fairview def. Ethan Hillis, Cherry Creek, 1-6, 7-6 (1), 7-5.
No. 2 singles — Tommy Mason, Fairview def. Harshil Dwivedi, Cherry Creek, 6-4, 6-1.
No. 3 singles — Alec Leddon, Fairview def. Robby Hill, Cherry Creek, 6-0, 6-0.
No. 1 doubles — Jacob Bendalin-Wyatt Dale, Cherry Creek def. Kobe Holdren-Ashwin Vaithianathan, Mountain Vista, 5-7, 6-1, 6-3.
No. 2 doubles — Noah Reiss-Mitchell Johnson, Cherry Creek def. Matt Woody-Eli Wiener, 6-4, 6-2.
No. 3 doubles — Erin Norwood-Ryan James, Cherry Creek def. Truett Davis-Steven Bummer, Regis Jesuit, 6-7, 6-1, 6-3.
No. 4 doubles — Tristan Faust-Dylan Harris, Fossil Ridge def. Luca Abbott-Max Koszowski, Regis Jesuit, 1-6, 7-5, 6-3.
No. 1 singles — Kap Smith, Boulder def. Kai Smith, Denver East, 6-1, 6-1.
No. 2 singles — Charlie Franks, Denver East def. Jackson Hawk, 7-6 (4), 6-2.
No. 3 singles — Cutter Esson, Boulder def. Colby Jimenez, Denver East, 5-7, 6-3, 6-4.
No. 1 doubles — Max Weiner-Nic Hoime, Fossil Ridge def. Arie van Vuuren-Nathan Lazarus, 6-2, 6-0.
No. 2 doubles — Alec Jotte-Joey Robertson, Regis Jesuit def. Devin Harper-Graham Blanco, Fairview, 6-1, 6-2.
No. 3 doubles — Kevin Schultz-Mike Brown, Fossil Ridge def. TJ Braxton-Eric Dellavalle, Denver East, 6-2, 6-3.
No. 4 doubles — Graydon Johnson-Andy Duggan, Cherry Creek def. Aidan Mulligan-Kelby Woodard, Boulder, 6-1, 6-4.