Ceres High School's varsity boys tennis team fell two wins shy of reaching the pinnacle of its sport.
The top-seeded Bulldogs of the Western Athletic Conference lost 5-4 to third-seeded Rio Americano of the Capital Athletic League in the semifinals of the Sac-Joaquin Section Division-II playoffs on May 14 in Ceres.
"I know my boys are disappointed," Ceres High head coach Bryan Harden said. "I'm disappointed. We gave it everything we had. We just came up a little short. Sometimes you just don't win. I guess it wasn't meant to be. It's bittersweet. We had a great year. I can't be upset. There's always next year."
Rio Americano dealt Ceres High (29-1) its first loss of the season and edged Mira Loma 5-4 for the section championship.
The Bulldogs were seeking to return to the finals.
Rio Americano's captured 12 section titles since 1992, including nine at the Division-II level.
"They're super good," Harden said.
Ceres High won three of six singles and one of three doubles matches versus Rio Americano.
Freshman Nolan McCaig beat Jack Lonergan 7-5, 6-3 in No. 1 singles play.
Julio Ochoa beat Kadyn Silva 6-4, 6-2 in No. 2 singles play.
Rene Cortes beat Danny Franz 7-5, 6-4 in No. 5 singles play.
Heath Adrian and Dennis Phommalinh beat Max Feng and Ajay Patel 7-5, 7-5 in No. 3 doubles play.
Alick Liang lost 6-1, 6-3 to Rio Americano's Sebastian Smith in No. 3 singles play.
Chase Harden lost 6-2, 6-3 to Sartak Saxena in No. 4 singles play.
Jordan Mey lost 6-4, 0-6, 6-4 to Bryan Vu in No. 6 singles play.
Jorge Ruiz and Julian Rodriguez lost 6-3, 6-2 to Bazley Mecey and Andrew Lee in No. 1 doubles play.
Juan Jimenez and Shane Kumar lost 7-5, 6-7 (2-7), 6-4 to Austin Ariza and Ted Gleason in No. 2 doubles play.
"It was a hard-fought match," coach Harden said. "It was incredible. There were so many highs and lows. I thought we had them."
McCaig, Ochoa and Cortes won their respective singles matches to give the Bulldogs a 3-2 lead in team scoring.
Down 4-3, Ceres High pulled even as Adrian and Phommalinh bested Feng and Patel.
Mey appeared to have momentum in his favor after forcing a tiebreaker. Jordan won the second set, 6-0. Vu elevated his level of play to secure the hard-fought victory.
"The effort was there," coach Harden said. "Jordan wasn't nervous. I thought he was going to win the match. The other kid caught fire. We were competitive in every spot. They were a little stronger than we were."
Ceres High defeated Capital Valley Conference No. 2 seed Oakmont 6-3 during their quarter-final matchup on May 12 in Ceres.
The Bulldogs won four of six singles and two of three doubles matches.
McCaig beat Johann Montecillo 6-0, 6-0 in No. 1 singles play.
Ochoa beat Marshall Comia 6-2, 6-0 in No. 2 singles play.
Liang beat Sherwin Llevares 6-0, 6-3 in No. 3 singles play.
Cortes beat Anirudh Avala 6-1, 6-3 in No. 5 singles play.
Jimenez and Kumar beat Alex Prather and Dylan Manzo 6-2, 6-2 in No. 2 doubles play.
Adrian and Phommalinh beat Julian Puffer and Jeet Shah in No. 3 doubles play.
Harden lost 6-3, 4-6, 6-3 to Adrian Karp in No. 4 singles play.
Mey lost 6-3, 7-6 (7-5) to Neal Desai in No. 6 singles play.
Ruiz and Wally Majeed lost 7-5, 6-3 to Matt Gallego and Ben Huey in No. 1 doubles play.
Ceres High won 29 of 30 matches, secured its third consecutive WAC crown (12-0) and earned its fifth straight playoff berth this season.
The Bulldogs compiled an impressive 30-2 overall record and brought home a second-place trophy from the Sac-Joaquin Section Division-II Tournament last year.
Ceres High had a 20-2 mark in 2012.
The Bulldogs will strive for a berth to the Sac-Joaquin Section's revamped Division-III playoff tournament in 2015. The bracket will feature teams from the WAC, Valley Oak League and Central California Conference. "I don't think the kids understand the whole picture," said Bryan Harden, who's led Ceres High to an impressive 79-5 record since 2012. "They've accomplished a lot. We overachieved. We're a Division-IV school playing Division-II tennis. That's not an easy thing to do. I'm proud of my boys. They always work hard."