By HOWARD SENZELL
FOR THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
PETALUMA — When the top two schools in the Redwood Empire got together on Wednesday, the match figured to be a nail-biter and it lived up to the script as Maria Carrillo eked out a 4-3 win over host Casa Grande.
The match between the defending NBL and reigning SCL champs wasn’t decided until the Pumas’ No. 3 doubles team of Tom Poland and Justin Chan defeated Akhil Nadendla and Matt January, 6-4, 6-2.
Poland, who has only been playing two years, was the unlikely hero.
“Everyone underestimates him,” coach George Deguici said of the sophomore. “He’s quicker than he looks and has a shot that barely clears the net that he can consistently make.”
His play was the difference in Wednesday’s match.
Poland was introduced to the sport by his father, Bruce.
“He’s the only teacher I’ve had,” the younger Poland said. “We started playing together on the courts near Mark West Elementary and I really enjoyed it, so I went out for the team at school.”
Wednesday’s match also brought together last year’s singles champs from the NBL (Arthur Lai) and the SCL (Matt Halligan).
It was no contest as Halligan won 6-1, 6-1 in less than an hour. As usual, the senior was strong from the baseline and he also displayed a new wrinkle to his game.
“I’m trying to get to the net more,” he said. “Any time I can get my opponent off balance back at the baseline, I’m coming forward.”
Halligan got a number of points against Lai with this strategy. He also utilized a powerful serve.
Next year, he’ll be a scholarship player for Holy Names of Oakland.
“Matt’s playing the best I’ve seen him,” coach Lisa Thornton said. “He’s taken his game to the next level.”
Halligan was the only Casa singles player to prevail.
The other three singles matches went to Kyle Lin, Ankur Goswami and Stuart Horner.
Lin has gained his coach’s admiration.
“He’s a fighter,” Deguici said. “He played No. 1 in several of our matches against better players and if he didn’t win, he gave them a battle.”
Lin had a tough first set Wednesday against Shaffer Battaglia, eventually winning 7-6. He took the second set, 6-2 .
Horner, playing consistent and getting a lot of balls back, defeated Daniel Carballal, 6-1, 6-3.
Goswami handled Shawn Udomsak 6-3, 6-2.
Casa has won the SCL the past three years and is now in the NBL.
The loss was the first of the season for the Gauchos and they are now 5-1. Carrillo’s record is 4-1. The Pumas’ only blemish was a home loss to Casa.