Dreamy finish for Menlo in CCS tennis title match

Senior Jamin Ball clinches a 4-3 win over Saratoga at No. 1 singles to keep Knights perfect at 24-0

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By Keith Peters

Palo Alto Online Sports

Most high school athletes at one point probably dream of hitting that game-winning homer, or scoring that game-winning touchdown or perhaps winning the final match to clinch a tennis championship.

Not everyone is as fortunate, however, as Menlo senior Jamin Ball, who was able to live out his dream on Friday by winning the final match to clinch Menlo's 4-3 victory over Saratoga in the Central Coast Section Team Tournament finale at Courtside Club in Los Gatos.

The triumph by the top-seeded Knights (24-0) keeps their perfect season intact, puts Menlo in the record book and on the road to accomplishing something unprecedented in local tennis history.

"There was so much riding on this match," said Ball, "more than just the winning streak. I was playing one of my best friends, one I hadn't beaten much; I was playing in the final match with everyone watching and had a chance to clinch it."

And like many players before him, Ball dreamed of being in this position.

"I've thought about being in the last match, " he said. "You always dream of winning that match. So, this is dream come true."

Ball's 6-7 (6-8), 6-3, 6-1 victory over Saratoga's John Lamble at No. 1 singles certainly was a dream come true for the top-seeded Knights, who beat the No. 2-seeded Falcons (22-3) for the third time this season. For a while, it didn't seem possible that Menlo could pull it off.

"It didn't look good for a while," said Menlo coach Bill Shine. "They just kept hanging in there."

The victory wrapped up Menlo's ninth CCS team title, tying the Knights with Gunn for the most ever in section history. Should Menlo go on to win three more matches at the NorCal Championships, May 21-22 at the Natomas Racquet Club near Sacramento, the Knights will have the Grand Slam of prep tennis. No prep tennis team in Northern California has ever won a section, NorCal and National Invitational title and finished the season undefeated.

"That's definitely the next thing to think about," Ball said. "We're still going to have to play Saratoga again."

On Friday, however, it was time for Ball to bask in the achievement.

"Winning stuff for yourself is nice, but winning for the team is even better," he said. "Winning a match like this is awesome. I clinched the (championship) match at the nationals and this one almost seems as sweet."

Ball had a lot of reasons to feel good about his victory. During semifinals on Wednesday when Menlo eliminated Palo Alto, 6-1, Ball took ill before the match but played on before finally having to default.

"It was food poisoning," Ball said. "Just in an out real quickly."

On Thursday, Ball had to take two AP tests before heading out to practice to prepare for a very familiar opponent. Lamble is Ball's doubles partner in USTA events and the two have been playing together since age 13.

"We're really close friends," Ball said. "We're going to be good buddies the rest of our lives."

The two also could continue playing against each other in college -- Ball at Stanford and Lamble at Santa Clara.

Ball, however, had a score to settle Friday. He had played Lamble in two previous CCS tournaments and lost to him both times in three sets. Ball also lost to Lamble during Menlo's two previous wins over Saratoga this season. Thus, Friday's victory was a bit of redemption for Ball.

" I was better prepared for this match than before," Ball said.

Lamble, perhaps, wasn't as he cramped up late in the third set. Following a three-minute medical timeout, the match resumed but Lamble wasn't the same player. Within a few minutes, it was over.

"History would tell you that Lamble would win," said Shine. "But I talked to him (Ball) after the first-set loss and he was really calm. That gave me the feeling that he was going to get it done."

Ball wasn't the only one to get it done. Menlo's No. 1 doubles team of junior Andrew Carlisle and sophomore Justin Chan, whom Shine calls the best doubles team in the nation, gave the Knights their first point with a 6-2, 6-0 victory. That tied the match a 1-1.

Menlo's No. 2 doubles team of freshman Daniel Morkovine and junior Kyle Sum battled for a 7-5, 6-3 victory that again tied the match, this time at 2. Saratoga went ahead before sophomore Jonathan Katzman and senior Brian Peltz rallied from a second-set loss to pull out a 6-4, 4-6, 6-3 win at No. 3 doubles.

"Number 3 doubles, I thought that was huge," said Shine.

With that victory secured and matched deadlocked at 3, all eyes turned to Ball on center court. It was win or else for Ball and he knew it as all his teammates rushed to the court to provide their support.

"I enjoyed it when everyone came down to cheer," Ball said.

After all, he had dreamed of this moment before.

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