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SUNSET TENNIS: Palo Verde’s Sulzberg, Safbom knock off defending champs

Brandon Sulzberg came up short in his quest for region and state boys doubles titles when he teamed with Conor Safbom last year.

A year later and with a different Safbom at his side, the Palo Verde junior got a measure of revenge Tuesday.

Sulzberg and freshman Mike Safbom captured the Sunset Region boys doubles title with a 6-3, 2-6, 6-3 win over defending region and state champion Sam Sholeff and Skylar Davidson of Bishop Gorman.

“We’ve had chemistry, and we’ve known each other since before I started my career,” said Sulzberg, whose first tennis match was with Mike Safbom when Sulzberg was 8 years old. “We just work well together.”

Sulzberg and Mike Safbom used an early service break to win the first set and held serve in the first game of the second set, but Sholeff and Davidson won three consecutive games to take control and eventually even the match.

A service break at 4-3 in the third set gave the Palo Verde team the advantage, and Mike Safbom used a service winner and an ace to get to match point. Sulzberg’s modified overhead at the net finished off the match.

“We were able to keep the ball in play and hold serve,” Sulzberg said. “That was big. We were just able to play our game.”

Sulzberg and Safbom are hoping to pull off two more wins later this week, when the Panthers compete for the team title and the duo competes in doubles in the state tournament.

“I’m extremely happy,” Safbom said.

Both teams advance to the state tournament. The individual portion of the tournament begins Friday at the Darling center.

In boys singles, Palo Verde’s Dylan Levitt downed Desert Oasis’ Ben Gajardo in a matchup of the last two state champions, 7-6 (13), 6-1.

Levitt won the title in 2013 while playing for Bishop Gorman. Gajardo won the region and state crowns last year.

The two put on an exhibition in a first set that took nearly 80 minutes. Each player had a handful of set points before Levitt finally won the tiebreaker and rode that momentum to victory.

GIRLS

A 10-minute break couldn’t have come at a better time for Bishop Gorman freshman Angelique Friedrich.

Facing teammate Amber Del Rosario in the Sunset Region girls singles final, Friedrich dropped the second set in a tiebreaker, and both players agreed to a 10-minute hiatus before the third set.

Friedrich took full advantage of the chance to regroup en route to a 6-1, 6-7 (3), 6-0 win over Del Rosario.

“I just had to refocus,” Friedrich said. “I just had to pull it together and calm down, and when I got that lead in the third set, that really helped.”

Friedrich won the first three games of the match and did a masterful job of keeping rallies going while waiting for Del Rosario to make a mistake.

But in the second set, Friedrich sprayed loose shots and spent nearly as much time talking to herself as she did playing. Del Rosario, a senior who was the Sunset runnerup last year, won five of the first six points in the tiebreaker on her way to forcing a second set.

“Amber just really started stepping it up and got a lot more aggressive in the second set,” Friedrich said. “I just kind of got flustered.”

Friedrich steamrolled through the third set, grabbing a 3-0 lead in a heartbeat and never looking back.

“I knew this was going to be a tough match,” Friedrich said.

Both players will try to help Gorman win the team title and will compete in the individual state tournament. The state team tournament starts Thursday, and the individual tournament begins Friday at the Darling center.

In girls doubles, Palo Verde’s Chloe Henderson and Sophie Henderson kept their march for a third straight state title going, winning their third consecutive region crown, 6-2, 6-3 over Panther teammates Abby Lewis and Alissa Till.

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