Justin-Siena’s Jakob Schultz and Jose Chopitea finished strong after some shaky moments to win the Vine Valley Athletic League doubles title over Vintage’s Jack Cole and Paul Saleh, 7-5, 6-7, 6-1, in a marathon, 2½-hour match Wednesday.
Both teams had their chances but Chopitea and Schultz and proved to be the steadier one despite flashes of brilliance from Cole and Saleh at the Napa Valley Tennis Association courts behind Vintage.
“Both teams played outstanding,” said Justin-Siena head coach Jim Reilly. “We coach to give our young men chances to compete in tough matches like this. I’m really proud of our guys. They’ve worked hard all year.”
Despite the close score, Reilly said his pair came into the entertaining tussle feeling confident.
“I tried to not over-coach and just let our guys go out and play,” he said. “Our guys are really smart and they played smart tennis today.”
They did it on one of the hottest days of the year, with temperatures in the upper 80s.
“It was a really great match, but also exhausting,” admitted Schultz, a sophomore exchange student. “We didn’t expect to play three sets today, but we’re grateful for the result. The sun and wind made it hard to hold serve today.”
All four players, who are either No. 1 or No. 2 on their schools’ ladders, also competed in the singles tournament on Monday.
“I usually play singles, so I was kind of scared to be honest when I found out I was going to be playing doubles,” said Chopitea, the Braves’ only senior this season. “We took the first set and thought we were going to win the match (in two sets), but they came back and beat us in a tiebreaker.”
In the deciding third set, it was the Justin-Siena duo that kept their cool.
“We told ourselves we needed to get back into the match, play calm, be at our best, and not worry about the score,” Chopitea said.
It was a winning strategy as they coasted in the third set, 6-1, to take home the doubles crown.
Cole, a sophomore returner and son of Vintage head coach Chris Cole, and Saleh, a freshman, were up a service break early in the first and second sets.
In the opening set, Justin-Siena was lucky to break back and tie the match when Schultz’s drop shot hit the net cord and barely fell over. The score went back and forth until Justin-Siena closed out the set, 7-5, with a break thanks to strong volleying from Chopitea and steady ground strokes and service returns from Schultz.
The second set saw good play at the net by Cole again gave Vintage an early 2-1 lead. But Justin-Siena broke the Crushers’ serve twice in a row to seize a commanding 5-2 lead.
It looked like Vintage was on the ropes. But in the next game, three unforced errors by Justin-Siena brought Vintage back to within 5-3. The Braves gave Vintage another tally when they double-faulted on game point.
But could the Crushers draw even? The answer was yes. Two volley winners from Cole and a forehand winner from Saleh made it 5-5 and the Justin-Siena victory celebration was put back on ice.
But Schultz held serve to give the Braves a 6-5 advantage. In the next game, unforced errors again hurt Justin-Siena, however, allowing Vintage to force a tiebreaker.
In the all-important tiebreaker, Vintage denied Justin-Siena the win on strong play at the net by Cole, who poached several winners on the day and was a real force up front.
But as play began in the third set, it looked like Vintage had used up most of its energy and mojo in the second frame as Justin-Siena rushed to an insurmountable 5-0 lead. Vintage won its only game of the set on an unforced error. The Crushers again lost their serve in the final game when Chopitea pounded an overhead winner to end the game and the match.
On Tuesday, Schultz and Chopitea opened with a 6-0, 6-3 win over Napa High’s Isaiah Orozco and CJ Tiebout, beat Vintage’s Connor Castalazo and Finn Glascott 6-4, 6-1 in the quarterfinals, and Sonoma Valley’s Trevor Griggs-Dromin and Erik Serbicki 6-2, 6-1 in the semifinals.
Both Justin-Siena and Vintage hope to bring both individuals and their respective teams to the upcoming North Coast Section playoffs. The NCS Singles/Doubles Tournament is next Friday and Saturday, May 3-4, at Harbor Bay Club in Alameda. The Team Tournament starts May 7 with Vintage, as the VVAL champion, hosting its opener.