You don't usually associate the word "underdog" with the Half Hollow Hills East girls tennis team.
But with two regular-season losses, both to Commack, the Thunderbirds entered the Suffolk playoffs as the No. 4 seed.
Hills East (14-2) avenged the losses, beating No. 2 Commack, 5-2, to win the Suffolk championship on Saturday at Floyd.
"It was different this season for sure," said Hills East coach Tom Depelteau, who noted that his team hadn't lost two-regular season matches in six years.
"We only had five veteran- type players who have really experienced the success we've had over the last few years," he said. "They really started to believe midseason and knew the opportunity was there."
It was the improved play of Gina LaRusso and Alexis Huber that helped change the result against Commack. LaRusso and Huber defeated Shelly Gupta and Alexa Corben, 6-3, 6-2, at first doubles.
"Coach helped us a lot and we worked playing together during practice," LaRusso said. "We always were able to find a way to win; if one of us was having an off day the other would pick things up."
Playing LaRusso and Huber at first doubles instead of second doubles against Commack allowed Depelteau to move Ariana Malik to third singles, where she defeated Emma Matz, a cousin of Mets lefthander Steven Matz, 6-3, 6-4.
Unlike Nassau County, Suffolk coaches can change the players' lineup, according to Suffolk girls tennis chairman Pete Cesare.
Hills East also won at fourth singles when Brynn April defeated Dara Danzinger, 6-2, 6-3; second doubles, in which Julia Razeil and Lauren Cherkin defeated Andrianna Kaimis and Julia Kinalis, 6-3, 7-5, and first singles, where Stephanie Chikvashvili defeated county champion Kimberly Liao, 4-6, 6-3, 7-5, in the fifth match between the two this season.
"It's a lot about experience," said Chikvashvili, who lost to Liao in the previous four matches. "I had to pick up on her weaknesses and capitalize on my strengths. I went point by point trying to analyze."
Chikvashvili will try to follow in her sister Ester's footsteps and win an individual state championship in Latham on Saturday.
"I want to keep the legacy going," she said. "I definitely am coming into states a little more confident."