BOYS TENNIS: Feisty Desert Oasis standout Ben Gajardo claims Sunset crown

Desert Oasis senior tennis player Ben Gajardo didn’t hesitate to critique his own play after nearly every unforced error during the Sunset Region final match against Durango’s Cesar Castro.

“You’re playing so bad!” he exclaimed several times.

But for Gajardo — a four-time state tournament qualifier — even a bad outing, in reality, is actually pretty good.

Gajardo beat Castro 6-1, 6-3 to claim the Sunset Region championship at the Darling Tennis Center on Saturday afternoon. Both players will advance to the state tournament, which begins play next week in Reno.

“It means a lot (to get back to state),” Gajardo said. “I’ve been with my team this whole time. They’ve always had my back supporting me … It feels great that I can show ,my team that I can make it to state.”

The state tournament is nothing new for Gajardo, who won the tournament in 2014 and competes in national tournaments throughout the year. He earned the Sunset Region’s top seed and breezed through the first four rounds of the tournament, losing just three games in four matches.

Castro walked through his portion of the draw, too, and lost just four games in four matches to set the stage for Saturday’s final.

But Gajardo was too good. He dominated his service games and wore out Castro with long, surgical rallies.

Sure, Gajardo made his fair share of errors — and he was demonstrative in doing so. But he ultimately rallied to win every key point and finished off Castro in about 90 minutes.

Diamondbacks coach Kelly Perryman said Gajardo brings a whole new dimension to high school tennis because of his accomplishments on the national circuit.

“He didn’t need the tennis aspect for improvement,” Perryman said, “but he just ate up the social aspect of it, being a high school kid with other kids, instead of just being alone.”

Gajardo, who is weighing college offers from UNLV and San Diego, said he’s enjoyed competing for the high school team his senior season and hopes to end the year with another state championship.

“I don’t think anyone has an answer for him,” Perryman said. “The only person who can beat Ben Gajardo is Ben Gajardo and he’s not going to do that.”

Palo pair wins doubles

In the doubles draw, top-seeded Palo Verde pair Mike Safbom and Brandon Sulzberg beat Clark’s Marcus Pasimio and Simran Shah 7-6 (2), 6-2 to win the region championship.

Both pairs will head to the state tournament.

Sunrise Region

Coronado’s Martin Rizov will represent the Sunrise Region at the state tournament.

Rizov swiftly navigated through the tournament bracket and beat Silverado’s Seth Forstner 3-6, 6-3, 6-2 in the championship match. Both players will advance to play in the state tournament at Reno next week.

The Green Valley duo of Ryan Elezra and Robbie Sarosi claimed the Sunrise Region’s doubles bracket. The pair had a bye in the first round, won their next three matches in straight sets and beat Las Vegas’ Trey Chauncey and Johnathan Sosa via walkover in the final.

Sosa sustained an injury in the final, and Coronado’s pair of Joshua Egbert and Wesley Harris, which lost to Elezra and Sarosi in the semifinals, will replace the Las Vegas team at the state tournament.

Class 3A Southern Region

Western’s Rua Elmore dropped just four sets in his domination of the Class 3A Southern Region singles tournament draw. Elmore clinched the tournament championship with a 6-3, 6-1 victory over The Meadows’ Nathaniel Van der post in the championship.

The Meadows, however, redeemed itself in the doubles draw, as Ryan Chang and Brian Capp won the tournament with a 6-4, 7-5 victory over teammates Edward Rastgoo and Justin Finseth in the final.

Both pairs will head to Reno.