Valencia's Jonathan Hammel readies his swing during the second round of Tuesday's CIF-SS semifinal against St. Margaret's.

Valencia again advances to title match


SAN CLEMENTE - The last time Valencia and St. Margaret’s met in a CIF-SS Division 3 boys tennis semifinal, the then fourth-ranked Tigers eked out a 9-all, 81-76 victory on games to advance to the championship match.

A year later, with the same coveted Division 3 finals spot up for grabs, top-ranked Valencia (22-2) advanced to its fourth consecutive CIF-SS championship match with a 10-8 triumph over St. Margaret’s on Tuesday afternoon at Rancho San Clemente Tennis Club.

“At the beginning of the season you don’t allow yourself to think about getting back to the finals for a fourth year in a row,” Tigers coach Mike McCall said. “You just play one match at a time, get better every day and see where you end up at the end of the season.”

Despite making four consecutive CIF-SS finals, Valencia has yet to reign in a championship, a trend the Tigers will look to buck next Wednesday against second-seeded Whitney of Cerritos.

“It’d be the greatest thing, I don’t know any other way to put it,” Valencia senior Jonathan Hammel said of winning a CIF title. “We’ve come so far. It’d be a great way to close out the season.

“Losing in the finals the last three years, it’s been tough. Watching all those guys celebrate as you sit there with a silver plaque is tough. It’d be really nice to finally get a big one and be the ones celebrating.”

As he’s done all postseason, Hammel - a UC Irvine commit - accounted for three of Valencia’s four claimed singles sets.

“It’s a huge advantage for our team having Jon because we’re always pretty confident he’s going to do well,” McCall said. “When you have a stud like that on your team, it goes a long way in getting to a championship.”

With St. Margaret’s (14-3) laying claim to five singles sets, the match was ultimately decided in doubles, where the Tigers took six of nine sets -- each team falling to the Tartans duo of Brooks Robinson and Andrew Torok.

After jumping out to an early 4-2 advantage, Valencia split the second round before claiming three early sets in the third to secure the match.

“We have three titles on the girl’s side,” McCall said, “it’d be fun to finally get one on the boy’s side. All we can do is compete, play well and let the chips fall where they may.

“I just hope we go down there and play our best match of the year. That’s all a coach could ask for.”

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