It all came down to one, single set: Syosset High School’s Stephen Peng against Great Neck North High School’s Brandon Thomas. One set to determine who would advance in the playoffs and earn a trip to the semifinals to take on Roslyn.
Syosset and Great Neck North split their regular season matchups: each club winning 4-3 on their own home court. Having just squared off last Friday, the two teams came into their first round playoff match all too aware of their opponent’s strengths and weaknesses. Tensions were high, with both schools harbouring sour feelings toward its counterpart. With so much on the line, this Quarterfinal matchup promised to be full of excitement.
“It all comes down to this. Our four months of training and hardships have been put into this one game, that defines our team and our future in our own minds as the legends we can only strive and long to be,” Syosset’s Matt Steinberg said at the outset of the biggest match of the year. The two teams had split regular season matchups with Syosset generally controlling the doubles and Great Neck North generally controlling the singles play. Great Neck North’s coach, Gary Cohen, seemed to be concerned about the playoff matchup, particularly his doubles squads. “We are more dependent on our singles. I don’t know if we’ll be able to win all the singles [matches] again.” Coach Cohen was quick to put his team’s faith in standout Senior Alex Friedlich, a 1st singles player throughout his entire high school career. Understandably, Syosset had its concerns as well, having lost to this same team just a few days prior to the playoffs.
As the first two matches ended, Syosset walked away with victories on the backs of the doubles teams of Matt Teller and Harris Weber playing 3rd doubles, and Kyle Nudelman and Alex Mandel playing 4th. After the first couple of matches closed, Teller noted that the “Braves are looking promising”. “We came here to dominate, and that’s what we did,” Nudelman said. However, after those matches, it was all downhill for Syosset.
One by one Syosset’s players fell. First, Great Neck North’s Doran Saraf & Jared Lewis secured 1st doubles. After mounting their comeback, Saraf said, “In the second set, we felt like we needed to step it up. We pulled through in the third set. We both served well and we pulled it out.” Next to finish was the first singles bout between Syosset’s Kevin Katz and Friedlich, who also made a comeback. “He raised his level in the 2nd set and I didn’t pick it up to meet him,” said Katz. “I’m just hoping the team wins.” Finally, third singles went Great Neck’s way, giving Paul Abrudescu a win over Jacob Mishkin, leaving Great Neck North with a 3-2 lead. “It was tough mentally,” said Abrudescu. “There were some disputes in the second set that favored the other side [Mishkin]. I fought tough and I figured out I needed to attack the net more.” Abrudescu’s new strategy proved effective, leaving Syosset against the ropes. After Jordan Zecher and Ian Baranowski took care of business for a Syosset win in their 2nd doubles match, all eyes shifted to the third set between Stephen Peng and Brandon Thomas.
Thomas had taken not only the last match between the two, but also the first set of this one. Peng wasn’t done fighting just yet however, storming back to take the second set, setting up a final set to decide the winner. After an extended bathroom break, the stage was set for the showdown. Thomas jumped out to a 2-1 lead in games, but Peng answered quickly to go up 3-2. Then, all of a sudden Peng lost his magic, surrendering the final 4 games in succession, ending Syosset’s season and sending Great Neck North in a tizzy of excitement. “Coming from the last match, I came into today with confidence. Even though I lost, it was another great three sets and Brandon played really well,” Peng said following his season ending loss.
When all was said and done, Coach Cohen’s concerns about his singles players proved to be a non-issue, as his boys took care of all three matches. Now, Great Neck North gets to ride into Roslyn on the back of an exhilarating win in the first round.
<p>Bobby Colton is a student at Syosset High School who covers the Long Island tennis scene. </p>