CLOVIS -- Like overtime in football or a shootout in soccer, the tiebreak in tennis is a finicky creature.
Winning is exhilarating. Losing is cruel. Stockdale's girls tennis team, loser of two tiebreaks and a 6-3 decision in the Central Section Division I championship to Clovis-Buchanan, knows it.
The Mustangs lost two tiebreaks, one in singles and one in doubles, and as they milled around at Buchanan's tennis complex while the Bears celebrated the third title in program history, they couldn't help but think about those races to 10 points.
"If we would have won those two tiebreaks, that's a 5-4 win," said Mustangs coach Dave Hillestad, who was otherwise distracted because he needed to race back to Bakersfield before doctors induced his wife into labor with the couple's second child. "It's frustrating, because we were so close."
Stockdale's No. 1 player, Prutha Mehta, took it a step further.
"We don't believe we're the weaker team," she said. "Two 10-point tiebreakers don't determine anything. Ten points is barely two games. We had the talent, we had the fight, we had the will. It was just an unlucky day."
Of course, Buchanan has plenty of talent and determination, too, as evidenced by the Bears' 27-0 record, which includes three defeats of Stockdale.
"It's a big deal for the girls," Bears coach Jonathan Slater said. "Last year, we were 22-0 going into the semifinals (before losing to Clovis West). That loss hurt. We said all week, 'We can't have a letdown here, we can't be overconfident.'"
Stockdale (20-5) trailed 4-2 after singles play and so needed to win all three doubles matches. That's the same position the Mustangs were in during a season-opening loss to Buchanan, and it was one Hillestad had hoped to avoid: Buchanan's No. 3 doubles team of Brooke Sanford and Christina Monreal hasn't lost all season. When they finished off Stockdale's Erica Stock-Upneet Cheema 6-3, 6-1, the match was decided.
"We were playing our No. 7 and 10 players against their Nos. 3 and 7," Hillestad said. "Their depth was a problem."
Buchanan gets an automatic berth into the first CIF Southern California regionals. A second Central Section team will get a wild card berth to be selected by section officials. Stockdale, which lost only to the Bears and to out-of-section opponents, seems like a logical choice.
"I hope we get to keep playing," Hillestad said.
In singles, Megan Lee beat Mehta 6-4, 6-1 at No. 1 singles, but Stockdale freshman Arianna Tilbury and Emily Horrigan earned straight-set wins at No. 2 and No. 3 singles.
Stockdale needed one more win to get to doubles play at 3-3, but as Buchanan did in two earlier meetings between the teams, the Bears found a way to win the close matches. At No. 6 singles, freshman Sienna Swain came back from a set down to beat Carmen Chai 10-6 in a third-set tiebreaker, and at No. 4, Sravya Gudipudi held off Claire Heffernan 6-3, 7-6(3) in a tiebreaker for the second set.
"Our freshman at No. 6 coming back from a set down, that was huge," Slater said. "We wanted to be up 4-2, because we knew it would be close."
Mehta, who with Horrigan lost a tiebreaker at No. 1 doubles to Megan Lee and Gudipudi, said knowing that Stockdale needed to win all three doubles made playing a tight match that much more difficult.
"You have to play tight," she said. "You can't afford to take risks, which is usually what separates the best players. Instead, it's just who messes up first -- who doesn't follow through, whose hand slips. It's tough."
Tilbury and Heffernan teamed for a 6-2, 7-6 win at No. 2 doubles, but by that time, Buchanan had already clinched victory. Stockdale had surpassed every other challenge the Central Section had thrown at it, but Mount Buchanan again proved too big to climb.
"I'm so, so proud of my team right now," said Mehta, a senior. "We had what it took. I just wish we had one more chance."