NEW HAVEN >> Every year you can pencil in the two finalists for the Southern Connecticut Conference Division I boys tennis championship match at Yale University.
You may even know the result, normally 4-3 one way or the other. What you have to guess about is which match determines the champion. This year, it came down to the No. 3 doubles’ teams.
And that match went to a third set Thursday afternoon with boisterous rooting sections for both teams. Hand prevailed, winning 6-3 in the third and beating Amity 4-3 to claim the conference title for the third time in the last four years.
“I may yell and get mad and yada, yada, yada, but the guys know deep down inside my heart, I love them all to death,” Hand coach Dawn Fagerquist said. “And we work hard. This team is very special. I can’t put my finger on it why.”
Hand (19-1) had cruised through the regular season until May 18, when Amity (18-2) came to Madison and handed the Tigers their first loss. That gave Amity the top seed for Thursday’s championship tilt.
Hand went up 3-1 before the Spartans rallied back to tie it at 3.
“When we won those two matches, I felt pretty good,” Amity coach Chris Raffone said.
— Joe Morelli (@nhrJoeMorelli) May 26, 2016
Raffone felt even better when Logan Berke and Henry Molot won the first set. Then Brian Lynch and Gianna LoMonaco rallied, buoyed by support from the Hand girls program as well, those players facing Amity in its own final.
“My guys had it this time,” Fagerquist said. “They played tough, they played well and played together. We implemented a game plan, stuck to business and got it done.”
Said Raffone: “These are the two best teams by far in the conference right now, Those are two areas where tennis is taken seriously at young age. A lot of siblings come through the programs.”
West Haven has provided its own feel-good story. That’s not a program you think of right away when it comes to tennis. That may change now.
The Westies won their second straight SCC Division II title, beating Hamden 6-1.
“It’s actually more exciting this year, to repeat, to do it twice in a row,” West Haven coach Jason Kirck said. “It’s hard to do it twice in a row. It’s hard to do it once.”
The Delgado brothers have helped propel the program into respectability. Joe joined older siblings John and James to fill out the top three spots in singles and the others, like No. 1 doubles team Luis Alvarez and Jeremy Borelli, also performed well.
“Having them (the Delgados) in the program, we aren’t who we are without them,” Kirck said. “They train harder because the Delgados are on the team. We are like the United Nations of tennis, such a diverse bunch of players. We have tried very hard to build a tennis program and we have 28 kids from all over the world come and play tennis every day. It’s really been an eye opening experience.”
Hamden’s Brandon Howard beat John Delgado at No. 1 singles for the Green Dragons’ only point.
“Jason Kirck did a great job. Those kids play for him and they play with heart. Give them a lot of credit,” Hamden coach Nils Leblang said.