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Burbank Takes It to the Limit With Righetti : High school tennis: Bulldogs go to a tiebreaker in the final set before pulling out their first Southern Section championship.

June 03, 1993|DANA HADDAD | TIMES STAFF WRITER

They groaned and wore pained expressions. By their appearance, you wouldn't know members of the Burbank High boys' tennis team were only three points away from winning their first Southern Section title.

Why?

Because the Bulldogs were, indeed, dangerously close to losing to Santa Maria Righetti before they pulled out a 10-8 victory Wednesday at McCambridge Park in Burbank.

Thanks to Roy Kim, the tension that put an emotional stranglehold on Burbank's players lifted only moments before match point came in the last of 18 sets in the Division III championship match--which, incidentally, was a tiebreaker.

Kim, a Burbank doubles player, hit a cross-court volley for a winner and let out a primal scream.

The partisan crowd of about 200 answered with an extended roar.

With that shot, Burbank's No. 2 doubles team of Kim and Rick Hart took a two-point lead in the tiebreaker against Gary Morris and Ian Moats.

Three points later, Kim handcuffed Moats at the net with a hard return and the Burbank student body poured onto the court to mob Kim and his teammates.

"I was trying to get pumped into it," said Kim of his clutch volley and crowd-inspiring yelp. "And I was trying to get my partner into it."

By the time Kim and Hart took the court for their third and final round-robin match against Morris and Moats, Burbank (22-3) led, 9-8, but couldn't afford to let Righetti (22-2) win the two remaining doubles sets because tournament officials would count games to break a 9-9 tie.

In that case, Righetti would win by virtue of the tiebreaker. Despite being down two sets, the Warriors were dead-even with Burbank in games, 69-69.

The onus would rest on shoulders of Kim and Hart, who figured to have the advantage against Morris and Moats, Righetti's No. 3 team.

That wasn't the case. Outside of No. 1 singles player Shawn Hiatt, who swept his three sets, Morris and Moats nearly emerged as Righetti's best weapon.

The M&Ms didn't win a match; they fell quietly in their opener against Burbank's No. 3 team, Morris Li and Jack Liu, 6-4. But then they pushed the Bulldogs' No. 1 tandem of Brad Warner and Phil Cano to set point, 5-4, in a tiebreaker before Warner and Cano battled back to win, 7-6 (7-5), averting a disaster that would have cost Burbank the match.

"I never thought we would lose until we got to the tiebreaker," said a shell-shocked Warner. "Then I thought, 'Oh my God.'

"Their pace was a lot softer than we liked it. We tried to adjust and we made a lot of errors."

Most striking was the appearance of Moats (6 feet 2, 240 pounds). Less graceful and a great, pale mass compared to his tanned, slender teammates, Moats baffled Burbank with soft serves and strong volleys at the net.

He injured a leg in a violent collision with a bench while hustling for a return. But after the loss to Warner and Cano, Moats and Morris pushed Kim and Hart to the brink.

The Righetti team got a service break in the seventh game of the set to lead, 4-3, then held serve to push it to set point at 5-3.

Whether they were cries for help or inspiration, that's when Kim started screaming and hitting winners.

Kim and Hart broke consecutive services by Morris and Moats while holding their own in the 10th game to pull ahead, 6-5. With Burbank in position to close it out, Hart double-faulted away the next game, forcing the tiebreaker.

Kim's screaming cross-court volley gave Burbank a 4-2 lead in the tiebreaker. Moats was long returning Hart's next serve, making it 5-2. After Kim's volley went long to make it 5-3, Kim punched a another volley right at Moats.

The big guy couldn't extend his racquet far enough to put strings on the ball. Game, set, match . . . sigh for Burbank.

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