By BRIAN JENNINGS
Ever since the preseason when Southington coach Tony Mauro stated that this season’s team could be Southington’s strongest boys’ team in decades, his Knights have done nothing but backed their coach’s statement. With three wins this week, including two against perennial state powers, it’s pretty much carved in stone.
The Blue Knights boys tennis team (13-0) survived three, vital, conference battles against three proven contenders, all on the road in a trio of 4-3 wins. Not only did the Knights win, but this past week represented, arguably, one of the closest and most successful weeks in the history of the boys’ tennis program.
“This is the best start by far and most dramatic,” said Mauro. “It was almost like someone was writing a story, and they would wind up with these dramatic finishes like they do in movies. With Rocky, no one would believe you if you wrote that story as to being a real story. It’s really what they call surreal, right? I kept telling the players, ‘On a real team, different people do different things to win. It’s not always that big star on a real championship.’ I’m pointing to each of them saying that they might do it one day.”
The Knights visited the Farmington Indians (9-3) on Monday, May 5. The Indians put together a seven-match win streak after losing their first match to Glastonbury, but the Knights handed the Indians their third loss of the season, 4-3.
Southington won three out of four singles matches. Kunal Kataria dropped his second set but came back to clinch the series with a 6-0 win in the third set. Luke Pfanzelt pulled through in the second set in a tiebreaker to win his match in straight sets. Zaya Oshana won in straight sets.
The match was decided by Southington’s only doubles win. Rohan Kataria-Mike Balaoing dropped the first set against Farmington’s Krusang Patel-Josh Mirani, but came back to win the second set and clinch the third set in a tiebreaker, 7-6 (10-8) after each team survived two match points.
A couple days later the Knights continued out on the road to meet up with one of the toughest opponents on their schedule in West Hartford, the Hall Warriors (9-3), where the Knights pulled off one of the biggest wins in the program’s history, 4-3. The match against Warriors was a match that Mauro was talking about since the beginning of the season. He wanted to win more than any other match on the schedule, and he got it.
Southington won two out of three doubles matches. Ogrin-Rohan Kataria and the Chasse brothers each won in straight sets. Pfanzelt was the only singles player to win in straight sets, but Oshana’s victory at No. 3 singles actually clinched the win.
Oshana won the first set, 6-3, lost the second set, 6-0, but held on to clinch the match with a 7-5 win in set three.
“When Zaya Oshana won the match, the kids mobbed him,” the coach said. “It was so emotional. When he got off the court, he knelt down on the ground and had his head down. When the kids got through around him and backed off a little bit, I went over to him and patted him on the back and said, ‘You did it.’”
The win over the Warriors marked the first time the Knights had defeated Hall under Mauro as head coach and the first win over Hall in decades.
Last year, the Knights lost to the Simsbury Trojans (5-2) in the final week of the regular sseason and finished second to them in the CCC West. However, the Knights carried the momentum from the Hall victory into Friday’s match. Southington turned the tied with a 4-3 win.
Although all three doubles teams were beaten in straight sets, the singles came through for the Knights. Pfanzelt, Oshana, and Balaoing won in straight sets, but the match would come down to a single match, yet again.
Kunal Kataria rallied back from one set down against Simsbury’s Derek Paradis after dropping the first set, 6-4. He came back to win the next two sets, 6-2 and 6-3.
The Knights remain as the only undefeated team left in the CCC West and as one of the four undefeated teams left in Class LL, sitting in fourth behind Glastonbury (14-0), Amity (16-0), and Staples (17-0).
Zaya Oshana in the only player left on the team that is undefeated in both singles and doubles matches this season.
The Knights look to keep the prefect season alive this week with games against Newington (10-3), RHAM (7-7), and New Britain (9-7).