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CHS boys' tennis program wins Sac-Joaquin Section Division-III championship
Ceres Highs No. 1 doubles tandem of Manny Jimenez (front) and Dennis Phommalinh clinched the Bulldogs 5-4 victory against Manteca in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division-III finals on Wednesday in Ceres. - photo by DALE BUTLER/The Courier

The members of Ceres High School's varsity boys tennis team hoisted the Sac-Joaquin Section Divison-III blue championship banner in the air while taking a celebration lap on their home courts.

Ten minutes earlier, Bulldog and Buffalo players watched with anticipation as the outcome of the match hinged on the No. 1 doubles result.

Manny Jimenez and Dennis Phommalinh rallied for a 5-7, 6-4, 6-3 victory over Yok Ehy Ma and Si Hao Tang to propel the top-seeded Ceres High to a thrilling 5-4 win over No. 2 Manteca on Wednesday in Ceres.

"It feels cool to do something not too many people have done," Jimenez said. "It's surreal. Nobody can take this from us. Everybody that doubted us got beat."

Ceres High posted a perfect 27-0 overall record this year.

The Bulldogs captured their fourth consecutive WAC crown.

The Buffaloes, winners of six Valley Oak League titles over the past 10 seasons, compiled a 19-4 record.

Nolan McCaig, Julio Ochoa, Chase Harden and Rene Cortes helped Ceres High build a 4-1 lead in team scoring versus Manteca.

McCaig defeated Yok Jing Ma 6-1, 6-0 in No. 1 singles play.

Ochoa defeated Michael Lopez 6-2, 6-3 in No. 2 singles play.

Harden defeated Gino Mercado 6-4, 2-6, 6-4 in No. 3 singles play.

Cortes defeated Nolan Osborn 6-4, 6-0 in No. 4 singles play.

Bruno de la Torre lost 6-3, 6-3 to Manteca's Spencer Jackson in No. 6 singles play.

The Buffaloes won three straight matches to set up a winner-take-all scenario.

Jose Ortega lost 6-3, 6-3 to Manteca's Kyle Thornburg in No. 5 singles play.

Manuel Lozcano and Alex Torres lost 6-3, 6-1 to Yayha Shabbar and Matt Pabla in No. 3 doubles play.

Jorge Ruiz and Julian Rodriguez lost 6-2, 7-5 to Edvin Pepic and Dhillon Patel in No. 2 doubles play.

Pepic and Patel evened the team competition at 4-4.

Faced with a do-or-die situation, Jimenez and Phommalinh elevated their level of play.

Manny and Dennis erased a 4-1 deficit on their way to claiming the second set.

Jimenez and Phommalinh completed the comeback by winning the third set in front of a crowd of spectators, including anxious players and coaches from both teams.

"It was scary," said Harden, who cheered from nearby bleachers.

"I just wanted to come back for my team and help us win a banner," Jimenez said.

"Everything happened is slow motion," Phommalinh said while talking about the wild celebration that ensued following Ceres High's section-title clinching victory. "I didn't feel any pressure during the match. Our teammates lifted us up."

Jimenez, Phommalinh and their Bulldog teammates experienced a feeling of elation a split second after beating the Buffaloes by the slimmest of margins.

Competing without six starters who were sidelined for disciplinary reasons, Ceres High lost 8-1 to Bella Vista in the Division-II finals in 2013.

Ceres High fell 5-4 to eventual D-2 section-champion Rio Americano in the semifinals in 2014.

Eventual runner-up Granite Bay topped Ceres High 6-3 in the second round of the playoffs in 2012.

"All of our hard work paid off," Ochoa said. "Everybody put a lot of effort into winning."

"For the past three years, we've been so close," Harden said. "We finally did it. It feels unreal."

"I still can't believe it," Phommalinh said.

"I'm mentally and physically worn out," Bulldogs head coach Bryan Harden said.