STATE COLLEGE - Second-seeded Hollidaysburg was down 2-1 to top-seeded State College Wednesday in the District 6 Class AAA Championship, but the momentum appeared to have swung to the Golden Tigers' side.
Steven Dodson, who, along with Cameron Humphrey, had taken a four-hour advanced placement test earlier, which pushed the match back an hour.
He lost the first set to feisty Brazilian exchange student Bernardo Dellagnelo, 6-4, but Dodson was up 5-4 in the second set and Dellagnelo was taking a bloody injury timeout after he hit his nose with his racket. Questions arose about whether Dellagnelo would continue.
On the next court, Hollidaysburg's Cameron Humphrey and State's Matt Craig were battling in the third set after Crain won the first, 6-1, and Humphrey won the second, 6-2.
Dellagnelo, however, returned after getting treated by the trainer, broke Dodson's serve and sent the intense match to the tiebreaker, where he beat Dodson, 7-6 (7-2).
The win secured a 3-1 victory and the Little Lions' eighth straight district team title, so the No. 3 singles match between Humphrey and Crain was suspended with the third set tied, 5-5.
"We had a great chance to win that [Dodson] match," Denis said. "We're sitting here 6-5 [and looking] to push it to three sets. It's not a cliche to say a point here, a point there makes a huge difference. In these two matches, a point here or a point there, we could be winning, 3-2, and looking at our first championship in school history."
"It was a battle," State College coach Jane Borden said. "I knew Hollidaysburg had a lot of good players and it was going to be a close match. Luckily, we were able to pull it out in the end."
State College, now 9-0, advanced to the first round of the PIAA Team Championships, where the Lions will play District 9 champion DuBois Tuesday. The Tigers finished their season with a 15-1 record.
Dellagnelo, who is related to Gustavo Kuerten, the former No. 1 player in the world, returned scorching volleys and had a big serve.
"We didn't account for him when we looked over the winter and said 'Ok, who's this team have coming back?' " Denis said. "We knew who we had coming back, and we knew who they had coming back. We felt this was our best chance to win ever.
"We felt we had a better team than them. I think we have a better than them, minus the kid whose parents got a job here for a year. He's just too good of a player. But, Dodson played great today. Him and Humphrey had the same AP test, so they hopped in the van and got here as quickly as we could."
"It's pretty tough," Dodson said of the loss. "It was hard to be ahead and have a chance to get back in the match, but he recovered very well from his nose bleed. He's an excellent player. He was hitting shots that I don't think I could ever hit."
Borden said Dellagnelo was a welcome addition to the team this year.
"He was unexpected. I didn't know he was going to be here," she said. "His mom is at Penn State for the year, and he may be coming back next year, so that would be really nice."
A fired up Dellagnelo was yelling in Portuguese - some observers thought it was Spanish, but Portuguese is Brazil's language - to celebrate points and apparently to chastise himself, but Dodson said it didn't faze him.
"Maybe last year or the year before it would have bothered me," Dodson said, "but I've learned playing these guys or others teams, you can't listen to it. I don't think it affected me. I was in my zone."
"He's usually pretty low key," Borden said, "but maybe he sensed the moment that it could be the deciding match."
Crain won the first set easily, but Humphrey responded well after that.
"Humphrey got off to a slow start because the legs weren't there," Denis said, "but for [Humphrey and Dodson] to compete was just awesome."
The Tigers' only win came in No. 2 doubles, where seniors Brian Schultz and Robbie Vonada beat Dan Lesher and Mina Fraig, 6-2, 6-4. The Lions' No. 1 doubles team of Edward Badding and Stephen Zimmerer beat John Johnson and Donnie Vonada, 7-5, 6-1.
State College's Cooper Josephs defeated Amir Alkhafaji, 6-0, 6-0, in No. 1 singles.
"We won where we thought we were going to win," Denis said, "and we battled in the other spots."
When the young Tigers look back at the season, they'll treasure going undefeated for the first time in the regular season.
"This is the first time I think since I've been coaching that we've had our boys team is the district team final," Denis said, "which is a heck of an accomplishment.
"As great as the season was, it's still disappointing [to lose]. Yesterday was pretty tough [Dodson and Humphrey lost in the district doubles finals] but everybody feels the team is more important than any individual or doubles team."
SINGLES: 1, Josephs, SC, def. Alkhafaji, 6-0, 6-0; 2, Dellagnelo, SC, def. Dodson, 6-4, 7-6 (7-2); 3, Humphrey, H, and Crain, 1-6, 6-2, 5-5 (susp.).
DOUBLES: 1, Badding-Zimmerer, SC, def. Johnson-D. Vonada, 7-5, 6-1; 2, Schultz-R. Vonada, H, def. Lesher-Fraig, 6-2, 6-4.
Records: Hollidaysburg (15-1). State College (9-0).