GARDEN GROVE — It was apparent before the playoffs started that Westlake High was no ordinary boys' tennis team and its leader was no average Joe.
With No. 1 singles player Darren Joe leading the way in the Warriors' 11-7 victory over host Garden Grove in the Southern Section Division III semifinals Thursday, Westlake is one victory away from becoming the best team in school history.
The top-seeded Warriors (22-0) will face Harvard-Westlake on Wednesday at a neutral site to be determined with a chance to win the first section boys' tennis title in the school's 19-year history.
"We're excited," said Joe, a junior who has a 43-2 record. "We can't wait. This was a tough match, a crazy match today, and we had to come together and play our best tennis. We're ready."
Joe swept three sets at No. 1 singles and the Warriors clinched the match by winning seven of nine points in singles against the fourth-seeded Argonauts (22-4).
There were three key matchups that swung the contest in Westlake's favor, and Joe was part of two of them.
First, he overwhelmed Garden Grove's No. 1 player, Danny Bui, 6-0. And with the Warriors' No. 1 doubles team of Joey Schimmel and Mike Horak beating Alex Iha and Huy Le, 6-3, one court over, Westlake took charge early.
The second crucial victory for the Warriors came when freshman Alex Yaftali upset Andro Ignacio in a No. 2 match. Ignacio, a senior, entered the contest with a 181-26 record in his and was the Argonauts' best player.
Yaftali trailed, 6-5, when he broke Ignacio's serve to force a tiebreaker, which Yaftali won, 7-5.
Yaftali's victory gave Westlake a 5-1 lead after the first round, and the Warriors would need to win only five of 12 remaining sets to win the match.
"Yaftali's win was huge," Joe said. "Our spirits were high after that."
Now came the third key battle: Joe vs. Ignacio.
Leading, 5-3, Joe had a chance to serve out the set. He couldn't. Ignacio, with a return winner, broke back to make it 5-4.
Ignacio, attempting to serve his way back into the match, pulled to 30-30 in the final game after Joe played a bad second serve and lost the point. But Joe was spurred by his mistake and he won the last three points to take the set, 6-4.
"It wasn't tennis," Joe said. "It was a mental war. It was whoever could keep it in. I'll take it."
Joe's victory over Ignacio gave Westlake an 8-2 advantage, and the Warriors easily closed out the match from there.
"Joe did his thing and Yaftali is a super player," Westlake Coach Grant Calkins said. "I think I'm both exhilarated and relieved."