By HOWARD SENZELL
FOR THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Santa Rosa High wrapped up its second North Bay League badminton title in as many years on Thursday, but it wasn’t easy.
The clinching match in the 8-7 victory against visiting Montgomery came in mixed doubles and went three sets.
In the end, Amanda Lau and Liam Galbraith were the heroes for the Panthers. They defeated Yingqi Fan and Anthony Goldstone 19-21, 21-17, 21-17.
By the time their first set ended, all other matches had been completed, and the No. 2 mixed doubles players had the attention of everyone in the gym.
“I wasn’t aware we were the deciding match until the break between the second and third sets,” Lau said. “Coach (Brett Williams) told my partner and he told me. It didn’t scare me. I stayed pretty calm and actually embraced it. We knew the importance of the last game and reassured each other.”
The lead see-sawed early and the score was 8-8 before Santa Rosa took the lead for good.
Galbraith, the reigning All-Empire Player of the Year, said he and his partner talked strategy after losing the first game.
“We concentrated on moving our opponents around the court and cutting down on errors,” he said. “Also, we began communicating better.”
When the schools met earlier in the season, Santa Rosa also won 8-7.
As with the first meeting, the Panthers won all four boys singles matches and Montgomery swept the girls singles.
Oliver Staten showed again he’s the best player in the Redwood Empire. In singles, he defeated Carl Qi, 21-13, 21-8. Later, he teamed with Josue Gutierrez to win No. 1 doubles, 21-11, 21-15.
Staten, a junior, took his game to another level this season.
“He got stronger and became more consistent,” coach Williams said. “He just dominated everyone. He frustrates opponents and breaks them down.
“His badminton IQ is off the charts. He absorbs strategy like a sponge.”
Staten played the No. 3 position last year and lost to Qi during the season.
He said hard work elevated his game.
“I practice three to four hours a day,” he said. “The practice has paid off.”
Playing Qi in the past helped Staten on Thursday.
“I knew my opponent’s tendencies and my goal was to take advantage of his weaknesses,” he said.
The Santa Rosa boys group is so strong, the singles players didn’t lose a match this year. The Panthers’ first doubles loss came on Thursday. The
Montgomery team of George Nacouzi and Ryuma Naito defeated Christian Pounden and Phillip Kong 23-21, 21-11.
The Vikings got a strong performance from their No. 1 girls player Grace Kouch. She defeated Deanna Beland, 21-7, 21-8 and teamed up with Josie Fish to win No. 1 doubles over Ashlee Ruggels and Emily Staten 21-9, 21-16.
Santa Rosa finished the season 8-0 while Montgomery is 5-2 with a match left against Windsor.