Eric Benderly of Commack, left, and teammate James Yu celebrate...

Eric Benderly of Commack, left, and teammate James Yu celebrate after their county crown-clinching three-set win over Shashank Pennabadi and Gabe Bursztyn of Ward Melville (not in picture) in first doubles during the Suffolk boys tennis large schools team championship at World Gym in Setauket on Monday. Credit: James Escher

There are defining moments in every boys team tennis season. It could be a high-stakes postseason battle, a matchup of top players or some three-set marathon that decides which school wins. We got all three of those on Monday in the Suffolk Large School Championship.

On one side of the net stood James Yu and Eric Benderly of Commack, the 2024 county individual doubles champions. On the other were Gabe Burstzyn and Shashank Pennabadi of Ward Melville, the 2023 county individual doubles champions. The score was tied with the other six matches in the books.

Teammates took up positions on one side. Families and friends filled two stories of glass windows on the others and were soon joined by Long Island Health & Racquet Club members who halted their workouts. And the four players put on a three-set spectacle worthy of all those eyes. Yu and Benderly finally broke serve in the ninth game of the final set and then served out for a 7-6 (6), 1-6, 6-4 triumph.

Yu’s forehand down the sideline clinched Commack’s 4-3 win and the Cougars duo was mobbed on their end of the court. Aggregate ratings — and a regular season win in their matchup — might have forecast the Patriots as the favorites but Commack won all four doubles matches and captured its fourth straight county crown.




(at Long Island Health and Racquet Club in Setauket)

Commack 4

Ward Melville 3

Singles: Harshith Pennabadi (WM) def. Madhav Nair (Com.), 6-0, 6-0; Robbie Monticciolo (WM) def. Mike Florentino (Com.), 6-1, 6-1; Aidan Thomas (WM) def. Adam Fawaz (Com.), 6-0, 6-0. Doubles: Eric Benderly and James Yu (Com.) def. Gabe Bursztyn and Shashank Pennabadi (WM), 7-6 (6), 1-6, 6-4; Joe Romito and Saharsh Peddireddy (Com.) def. Ben Wu and Matthias Yeh (WM), 6-0, 6-2; Jayson Krauthamer and Danny Strogach (Com.) def. Max Schoolman and Leo Schoolman (WM), 6-3, 6-1; Jeffrey Behar and Evan Vieira (Com.) def. Luke Bernhard and Will McGovern (WM), 6-3, 6-4.

The Cougars (19-1) next Monday will vie for the Long Island Division I championship against the Nassau County titlist at Smithtown East High School.

Among those who have played a part in these four county titles, this one stands out above the others because of how it started. The return of star Edward Liao, the state singles champion, didn’t materialize. And then there was the regular-season loss to Ward Melville (19-1).

“This one is the most satisfying because without Eddie and his automatic wins, it was going to take all of us operating at our absolute best to get it,” Yu said. “We had leeway the other years. This year we needed every match from every player.”

“This one we had to work hardest to get,” Commack coach Jimmy Delevante said.

Added Benderly: “Much of this season was about getting past [losing] Eddie, understanding that this is the team and that we are just as capable of winning.”

Delevante involved his players, especially Yu and Bendery, in devising the doubles-centric lineup to oppose the Patriots. It was a design that left no margin for error and perhaps his decision was to let Jeffrey Behar choose his partner for fourth doubles. He went for fellow junior Evan Vieira, not because they’d played together — they hadn’t — but because of a close off-court friendship formed through a mutual love of the NHL.

“It’s a bind we have others don’t know about,” Behar said after their 6-3, 6-4 win. “I love how he loads up and you know it’s coming — he hits nothing soft.”

With the match moved indoors because of the weather and only three courts, the last debate was what order the teams should play in The three singles matches went first and were all complete in 25 minutes as Patriots' Harshith Pennabadi, Robbie Monticiollo and Aidan Thomas posted straight-set wins while dropping an aggregate two games. Next, Commack got three straight-set wins in doubles, Joe Romito and Saharsh Peddireddy and Jayson Krauthamer and Danny Strogach won the other two.

And then came the finale.

“We wanted to be the last match of the day because we knew it could come down to this and we knew we would be able to handle that pressure,” Yu sad.

And Bursztyn and Pennabadi applied plenty. They led 4-0 in the first set, but it ended up in a tiebreaker as the Cougars’ got three Benderly aces and three service breaks. Commack won four of the last five points to take the tiebreaker.

Then it was Ward Melville’s turn for a comeback and with Bursztyn putting points away at the net and Pennabadi piling up winners from the baseline, it took the second set.

Both teams held serve in the third set until the ninth game. Yu and Benderly cashed in on three Patriot shots that either went long or into the net.

“That match, this [matchup], this season — [they’ve] all been about how resilient we are,” Benderly said.


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