By NICK KOSKO

Glory Days Magazine Staff Writer

LINWOOD — Early on in the South Jersey Group 3 boys tennis championship on Monday afternoon, it looked as though host and top-seeded Mainland Regional might be in for another heartbreak. But a comeback win at first doubles turned the tables and gave the Mustangs the inspiration they were looking for.

After failing to win a South Jersey Group 3 title for two consecutive years, the Mustangs came back with a vengeance against No. 3 Hammonton in this year's sectional championship match. After a little more than an hour, the Mustangs won their third match of the day and officially clinched the win before finishing with a 5-0 victory over the Blue Devils.

Head coach Chris Connolly let out a sigh of relief and said his team had "finally gotten the monkey off their backs."

“We just had to take it a point at a time because we were even losing on some courts in the beginning,” Connolly said. “Once our guys got settled in, they fired on all cylinders and it just kept rolling from there.

“It’s been rough the past two years coming home empty handed, so you could say this year it feels really good. I am so happy for these boys,” assistant coach Kathy Yohe said. “Our goal was to get back here to give ourselves a chance, and coach Connolly has been saying that all year as well. I’d say it was pretty fun to finally come out on top.”

While Mainland (16-1) ended up dominating the match, it did not look good early on for first doubles pair Brandon Savitch and Nick Filardo, who trailed 4-0 in the first set. The juniors soon won five games in a row to take the lead and hung on for a 7-5, first-set victory.

The momentum carried into the second set, as they won 6-2 over Hammonton’s Matt Huster and Vincent Piccari to clinch the match.

“They surprised us in the beginning. Nick and I knew that we are a good pair and we just had to calm down and play our game,” Savitch said. “We battled through and took it one game at a time.”

With a few impressive shots in the first set, Filardo was able to generate enough energy between he and Savitch to pull out a gutsy first-set victory.

“Honestly, in the beginning, I felt it was stress and nerves that kind of got to us. There were a lot of people out here today, more than what you’d normally see at a tennis match, but we had to shake that off and play our game,” Filardo said. “Once we composed ourselves we were able to come back and win that first set and get it done.”

The Mustangs also got a first-singles victory by sophomore Nikola Kilibarda, as he defeated Evan Barnett 6-1, 6-1. After Savitch and Filardo pulled off their victory, the second doubles pair featuring senior Noah Lee and sophomore Chris Rha dominated in straight sets 6-3, 6-0.

Senior captain Harrison Freon had little trouble in his second singles match as he dispatched Hammonton’s Vincent Maimone 6-3, 6-2. Later, he was the first to hoist the trophy with his teammates.

Filardo was the biggest supporter of his teammates after finishing his match. The momentum of the doubles win carried over and led to more Mustang victories.

“One of my sayings is 'keep it rolling.' So once anyone gets the momentum, just keep rolling with it to get that victory,” Filardo said. “It honestly feels amazing to win this title. I’m so happy right now to get this win and to have such great coaches and teammates around me.”

Anthony Pangilinan outlasted Hammonton's Jordan Mitchell at third singles to pick up Mainland's final point. Pangilinan and Mitchell traded 6-1 wins before Pangilinan rallied for a 10-6 win in the third set.

Mainland will play again on Wednesday in the semifinals of the state Group 3 tournament and will now look to capture the overall state title this week.

“We’ve been working for this all season,” Connolly said. “We had unfinished business to take care of. We can enjoy this victory, and now we have something to look forward to at the state tournament.”