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Paul Rhee-Adam Stein pairing clinch tennis title for Half Hollow Hills East

Avi Anand of Half Hollow Hills East returns

Avi Anand of Half Hollow Hills East returns a volley from Rahul Mathur of Hills West (not in picture) in the third singles match of the Suffolk County varsity boys tennis team championship at Half Hollow Hills High School East on Wednesday, May 17, 2017. Anand won the match for Hills East 6-4, 6-2. Credit: James Escher

Few boys tennis players suit up multiple seasons for Half Hollow Hills East and graduate without winning a county title, but this year’s senior class was at risk of joining that club.

Fittingly, it was a pair of seniors — Paul Rhee and Adam Stein — that defeated visiting Half Hollow Hills West’s Keshao Khanna and Michael Lombardi, 6-3, 6-4, Wednesday in the deciding match at third doubles to lead the Thunderbirds to a 5-2 win and their 10th Suffolk championship in the last 15 years.

Hills East (17-1) had lost the previous two championships to Hills West (14-4).

“We hadn’t lost two in a row in a very long time,” Hills East coach Tom Depelteau said. “I don’t remember the last time we lost three in a row, so we’ve had a very good run.”

After Rhee and Stein gained a 5-4 lead in the second set, they noticed their teammates gathering on the hill overlooking the courts. They heard the chatter and knew they had the opportunity to clinch the title.

“It made it more exciting,” Stein said.

The Hills East duo had trailed 1-3 in the first set, but altered its approach to be more aggressive at the net. That strategy worked, as Rhee and Stein won five straight games and prevailed in the second set despite being tied at 4.

“Even though we were down 1-3 we knew we had more, we could bring more,” Rhee said.

After they secured the final point, Rhee and Stein walked off the court and were mobbed by teammates.

“It’s amazing because losing the last two years was rough for everyone,” Stein said. “Everyone really wanted to win this year. This is really exciting. I’m glad to do it my senior year.”

Ethan Ertez won at fourth singles, and the duos of Adam Wilck and Tyler London and Brandon James and Jai Madisetty helped Hills East complete the doubles sweep.

Unlike Rhee and Stein, who said they lost their finals match as a pair last year, Avi Anand won at fourth singles in 2016. He also defeated Rahul Mathur, 6-4, 6-2, at third singles this year.

“It feels good to win and now it also feels good that we won as a team,” Anand said. “Last year it also felt good to win [individually], but it’s a different feeling this year.”

Hills West coach Kim Langendorfer expected a rebuilding year after graduating several key players from her back-to-back title winners. Instead, the Colts returned to the finals for the fifth straight season — they lost the first two during that stretch to Hills East.

“It’s been a great season,” Langendorfer said. “I couldn’t ask for more. We got here and that’s a blessing. I’m very proud of them.”

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