Zain Ali spearheads Hills East's fourth straight Suffolk team title
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Forget the county Class AA crown or being the best in Class B, unlike in football, lacrosse, basketball or baseball. Only one team can earn the title of Suffolk champion in boys tennis, and for the fourth consecutive season, that team is Half Hollow Hills East.
Zain Ali, the newly crowned Suffolk singles champion, beat Aziz Rashidzada, 7-5, 6-2, in the deciding first singles match as No. 1 Hills East beat rival No. 2 Hills West on Tuesday at home in the final, 5-2.
Hills East (19-0) ran its school-record streak to 79 consecutive wins in Suffolk matches to earn its eighth county title in nine years. The T-Birds will go on to face Cold Spring Harbor in the Long Island championship.
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Hills West finished 16-3.
"I wanted to win it for my team. What's better than winning the deciding match for your team in a championship?" said Ali, who learned that his match would clinch the title right before playing the final game of the second set. "I was pumped up. It means a lot to us with the Hills East-Hills West rivalry, it gave us even more incentive to want to win."
Jeff Cherkin earned Hills East's first point, beating Harris Durkovic, 6-0, 6-1, at third singles. Kyle Alper then followed suit at second singles with a 6-1, 6-0 win over Evan Nierman, and Jake Delouya and Grant Rosenberg then topped Ben Wright and Ryan Winthrop at third doubles, 6-2, 6-2, to give Hills East a 3-0 lead.
Hills West earned the next two points as Jackson Weisbrot came from behind to beat Alec Tuckey at fourth singles, 7-6 (5), 6-2, and Duane Davis and Zachary Mollo beat Roger Cheng and Michael Leffler, 6-4, 6-3, at second doubles. Ali's victory made it 4-2 and Travis Leaf and Ross Reiffman made it 5-2 for Hills East with a 7-5, 6-4 win at first doubles over Lucas Udell and Dylan Davis.
For Cherkin, one of four Hills East seniors, the victory had extra significance.
"I started playing as a freshman and since then, we haven't lost a match in Suffolk County and this is our fourth consecutive title, so it's really special to be a part of a team and play for a school that's as good as ours," Cherkin said. "It's extremely special. Not many people have the chance to win a county championship, but I'm lucky enough to have won four of them."
Hills East's team championship mirrored its success at last week's individual championships, as the T-Birds filled seven of the county's nine roster spots on its state team.
"I'm especially proud of this group of kids. They've worked incredibly hard since we've started and it's paid off," Hills East coach Tom Depelteau said. "This was our goal. We were fortunate enough to fill up the state team, too, but I think they'd trade all that in for today."