FLORHAM PARK, NJ - James Cai, the Chatham boys tennis coach, knew that his top-seeded team had the talent to win. But he wasn't so sure they would pull it off when his top-seeded Cougars took on No. 2 Millburn to decide the North Jersey, Section 2, Group 3 state title.
The young Chatham team, however, lived up to its billing, defeating Millburn, 4-1, on Monday at Centercourt in Florham Park to win the school's first boys tennis sectional championship since 2010.
"I'm very proud of the boys, it was a hard-fought win," Cai said. "On paper, we knew we were better, but we still had to play every single court. It was a little nerve-wracking for the boys at the beginning of the match. Some of them were tight. After Saurav (Patel), our second singles, clinched his match, he won easily 6-0, 6-2, that helped the team and gave us momentum."
After freshman Patel made quick work of his opponent at second singles, Chatham's first-doubles duo of junior captain Aidan Sims and sophomore Dennis Isak posted their 6-4, 6-1 win. See one of their points below.
That gave freshman third-singles player Pedro Cattaruzzi the chance to clinch the championship. See one of his points below in the first set.
Cattaruzzi, who moved to Chatham from Brazil two years ago, was locked in a battle with Arnold Jia of Millburn in the first set, which went to a tiebreaker. Cattaruzzi's tiebreaking shot to the baseline was called out by his opponent, but the NJSIAA umpire ruled the ball was in and that gave the Chatham freshman the first set, 7-6 (7-5).
Cattaruzzi then picked up his game in the second set, breezing to a 6-1 win with his match point coming on a shot that tipped the top of the net and leaked over. That clinched the state championship for Chatham.
Pedro Cattaruzzi talks about his state-title-clinching match below
The entire Chatham and Millburn teams gathered to watch the first-singles match between Cougar Alberto Thomas and the Millers' Austin Peng play out.
Thomas won the first set, which featured extended rallies, 6-4 and dropped the second set, 6-1. He could have just paced in the pro-set tiebreaker, falling behind 7-4 at one point, but came back to take the tiebreaker 11-9 on the point below.
"I'm very happy for the team," Thomas said. "We got our trophy, the one that we wanted for the whole season. It's good being on top. It's a nice feeling to be on top. I'm sure we're going to do the same thing next year."
Before Chatham (16-2) starts thinking of next year, the rest of the 2019 postseason awaits. The Cougars will travel to Mercer County Park in West Windsor on Wednesday for an 11 a.m. Group 3 semifinal. If Chatham wins, it will play for the Group 3 final the same day.