Monday | December 11, 2017
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Brilhante performance

KOHALA COAST — Hilo’s Daniel Tada stood tall in the face of the barrage, hitting seemingly every well-struck ball back over the net Saturday at the Fairmont Orchid Hawaii.

In the end, Isaiah Brilhante’s power won out in a marathon match as the Waiakea senior claimed the Big Island Interscholastic Federation boys singles title with a 6-3, 3-6, 6-3 victory.

“I’m in a state of disbelief,’’ said Brilhante, who last year fell to Kealakehe’s Spencer Travalino in the BIIF final. “I can’t believe I won. It hasn’t sunk in yet.’’

In two other three-set finals, Emily Soares beat Diana Wong 6-4, 3-6, 6-1 in a battle of top-notch Hilo freshmen, and Konawaena’s doubles tandem of Haley Ekstrom and Rayne Izumi-Baltero outlasted the Waiakea duo of Marissa Hayashi and Leisha Ishikawa 6-4, 4-6, 6-1.

In the boys doubles final, Brendan Moynahan and Jake Frogley cruised past Finn Gallagher and Caelan McHale 6-0, 6-2 to cap an undefeated season.

Soares and Brilhante were also unbeaten in league play.

Leaning on a powerful forehand, Brilhante cracked 32 winners to Tada’s 11.

And in a third set that featured five consecutive breaks of serve, Brilhante ramped up his service game with the match on his racket, collecting three service winners. The last of the three gave him his second match point, and he converted.

Ironically, Brilhante, who for much of the match saw Tada return blistering forehands, won his title when he tracked down a deep Tada groundstroke to flick a defensive lob at the Hilo senior. Tada readied himself for an overhead smash but hit it into the net.

“I was hoping he would miss,’’ Brilhante said. “I’m just lucky he did.’’

Brilhante, out of respect for his opponent, was rather reserved after claiming his championship.

“It’s bittersweet because Daniel is one of my best friends,’’ he said.

Brilhante appeared in control of the match late in the first set. One of Tada’s six double faults gave the Waiakea senior a break and a 5-3 advantage, and Brilhante then swept away three break points on his serve to take the set.

But Tada, relying on his extraordinary defense on the baseline, hung around.

“My game plan was to get a lot of balls back because he hits the ball so dang hard,’’ Tada said. “I was hoping to switch it from defense to offense.’’

And on a handful of occasions, when Brilhante aggressively went to the net, he did, collecting four winners on passing shots in the second set. Just like Brilhante did in the first set, Tada broke for a 5-3 lead before serving out the set.

But it was Tada’s dogged determination to track down what seemed to be point-ending shots that frustrated Brilhante on several occasions.

Bill Brilhante, Isaiah Brilhante’s father and Waiakea’s tennis coach, saw that same frustration last season, when his son faced an opponent with similar defensive skills in Travalino.

“In the past, we’ve had trouble with that kind of player,’’ Bill Brilhante said. “And he had trouble (against Tada), but he persevered.’’

Going into the final set, Isaiah Brilhante tried to block out thoughts of the spoils of victory. Instead, he focused on areas of improvement.

“(I needed to work on) moving my feet, making less unforced errors and striking the ball cleanly.’’

While Brilhante solved the defensive-minded Tada, Soares said she leaned on her ability to run down balls all over the court against Wong.

In the second set, Soares had trouble with the hard-hitting Wong.

“She was always on offense, banging balls, and I was on defense,’’ Soares said. “I couldn’t do that any longer.’’

Soares had beaten the rest of her opponents in straight sets this season. But Wong, who also entered the match undefeated, provided a stiff challenge.

“I was trying to be positive (entering the third set),’’ the top-seeded Soares said. “It could have gone either way.’’

Soares still found herself on the defensive but made any points the second-seeded Wong collected hard-earned.

“I kept the ball in play and waited for her to make the errors,’’ Soares said.

While the girls singles draw cranked out a final that most expected, the girls doubles draw provided some surprises.

The pair of Hayashi and Ishikawa, the fifth-seeded team, upset the top-seeded duo, Hilo’s Kat Hong and Kelly Soares, 5-7, 6-1, 6-2 in the semifinals.

Instead of positioning one person at the net and the other at the baseline, Bill Brilhante had both players at the baseline, and the strategy paid dividends.

“Both of them stay back, and their strength is that they’re backboards,’’ Brilhante said. “(They have) speed, and they don’t try to do too much with it.’’

They played against two Konawaena players — a freshman in Ekstrom and a junior in Izumi-Baltero — who didn’t even know each other at the beginning of the school year.

“We just got paired up,’’ Ekstrom said.

With that kind of matchup, was it really possible to win a BIIF championship?

“I never really thought it was,’’ Ekstrom said. “I didn’t really know the BIIF and the competition out there.’’

But once the pair started recording victories — their only loss came at the hands of Hong and Kelly Soares in last week’s BIIF team championships — that mentality changed.

Izumi-Baltero, who helped the Konawaena soccer team win its first league title since 2008 last February, wanted to add to her collection of honors.

“I was hungry for more,’’ Izumi-Baltero said.

The two said getting through the low points of their final against Hayashi and Ishikawa allowed them to persevere.

“It was not letting a bad shot ruin the rest of the game,’’ Ekstrom said.

Like the duo of Ekstrom and Izumi-Baltero, the pair of Moynahan and Frogley didn’t have BIIF title aspirations at the beginning of the season.

They had never played together as a doubles team. However, Moynahan, a junior, said the two attended tennis camps at HPA since they were 8 years old, providing some chemistry before they hit the court.

At the BIIF team championships, after they beat Gallagher and McHale, a BIIF doubles title became a reality.

“After we played all the teams, we thought we might do well going (into the BIIF individual tournament), and we did.’’

HPA coach Steve Campbell said Moynahan and Frogley succeed by employing the “hammer/sickle method.’’

Campbell calls Moynahan the hammer and Frogley, a sophomore who uses an effective kick serve, the sickle.

“You have the steadier player and the risk-taker,’’ Campbell said. “(Moynahan) knows when to be more aggressive. He’s played tennis a long time.’’