With one set in hand at the Nassau boys tennis singles final, Herricks' Vihar Shah went up two breaks in the second against Cold Spring Harbor's Conor Dauer, but quickly gave one right back, causing doubts to creep in despite his comfortable lead.
"I got really nervous," Shah said. "I was thinking that I shouldn't choke but I was choking more and more."
Enter the Sandman. Shah spotted a man wearing a Yankees T-shirt, and channeled the greatest closer of all time to finish the match.
"I saw his shirt and I thought of Mariano Rivera and how he closes things out," Shah said. "I just told myself 'it's one point at a time . . . it's just one match.' And I got it done."
Shah, a senior, beat Dauer, 6-2, 6-3, Saturday at Oceanside to win his first county title and earn his second consecutive bid to the state championship.
Wantagh senior Doug Notaris needed three sets and nearly three hours to beat Port Washington junior Ben Rosen, 6-2, 5-7, 6-2, in the consolation singles match to earn his first bid to states. And Cold Spring Harbor juniors J.P. Paris and Conor Mullins powered through the doubles bracket to earn their first county title and second bid to states.
"I came in pumped up," Shah said. "I've been working really hard for this and I'm really happy."
Shah broke Dauer in the first game of the match, putting all of his strengths on display. At 6-4, his reach and range were impressive, as he tracked down almost anything Dauer threw at him and turned each point on Dauer's serve into a decent rally. Shah's serve was on the entire set with the pop off his racket sounding like a Rivera cutter thudding into a catcher's mitt circa 1999.
"When he's serving well it's impossible to get his serve in. He just hits it with such pace that it dies off the racket," said Dauer, a senior who earned his first bid to states. "On a normal opponent I'll hit a cross-court shot and then come to the net to hit a volley, but he scrambles very well and very fast. He just played so well and I didn't play my best."
In the second set, Shah continued to mix things up with his forehand, sometimes going for power and other times putting on heavy topspin. Leading 5-3, Shah broke Dauer to seal the match in a game that took three deuces to finish. "I worked really hard for this and I feel like my fitness got me where I was. I was getting all my balls back and it all came together for me," Shah said. "Conor hits the ball really well so to take off his timing you have to change up the pace so he doesn't get a good rhythm, but he was still ripping the ball really well because he's a great player."
In doubles, Paris and Mullins beat Syosset's Henry Tell and Addison Berniker, 6-0, 6-0, in the final. Plainview JFK's Josh Young (senior) and Yuval Solomon (eighth grade) beat Roslyn seniors Brett Edelblum and Alec Goldberg, 6-1, 6-1, to earn the third doubles bid to states.
"I've been playing high school tennis for five years so to finally make it to states my senior year is amazing," Young said.