The Montclair boys tennis team had plenty of confidence going into Saturday’s Essex County Tournament semifinal battle against Millburn.

The Mounties had defeated the Millers, 3-2, two days before in a regular season Super Essex Conference contest.

So Montclair was looking to make it back-to-back victories, with this one for a shot at the ECT championship.

But it’s hard to beat another team back-to-back. Where the ball bounces one way, it goes the other the next day.

And that was the case at Branch Brook Park in Newark as Millburn turned the tables on Montclair, winning a 3-2 decision on Saturday, April 23, in the semifinals. 

It was the second year in a row that Montclair lost to Millburn in the county semis. 

“We’ve fought … to be second-best in the county to Newark Academy, who is a level above both of us,” Montclair head coach Guy Rabner said. Millburn would go on to lose to Newark Academy, 4-1, in the finals.

Montclair has faced the Millers five times in the last two seasons, and four of the five verdicts have been 3-2. The lone non-3-2 decision came in the 2021 ECT semifinals, where the Mounties lost, 5-0. They have only won one of the five contests. 

In Saturday’s battle, the difference came in the second singles. 

Montclair senior Sol Cornejo won the match in the regular-season contest on Thursday, but on Saturday it didn’t go that way.

Cornejo would fall, 2-6, 2-6, to Aarush Gupta. Cornejo had won two out of three matches against Gupta before Saturday. 

“Sol is now 2-2 against him the last couple of years,” Rabner said. “All of these matches could go either way.” 

Montclair senior Sol Cornejo battles Millburn’s Aarush Gupta in the second singles at the Essex County Tournament semifinals on Saturday, April 23, in Newark. Cornejo lost the match, and the Mounties fell, 3-2. (Edward Kensik/Staff)
Montclair senior Sol Cornejo battles Millburn’s Aarush Gupta in the second singles at the Essex County Tournament semifinals on Saturday, April 23, in Newark. Cornejo lost the match, and the Mounties fell, 3-2. (Edward Kensik/Staff)
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The coach believes that the defeat will help the Mounties when it comes to the state tournament in late May.

“I hope all of these close, hard-fought matches will make us stronger and tougher come state tournament time,” he said. “I try to schedule as many quality matches as possible to have us peak at tournament time.”

On Saturday, Montclair won the third singles, in which senior Avery Bronner defeated Aryn Juneja, 6-2, 6-2. Cornejo defeated Juneja in Thursday's SEC contest.

The Mounties also grabbed the second doubles match, as junior Rainen Solomon and senior Jaden Ruderman defeated Aarav Dugar and Liam Pilarski, 6-2, 3-6, 6-2.

In the two other contests in the semifinals, Montclair sophomore Tylan Ozkuzey fell to Matias Feoli, 1-6, 2-6, and seniors Leon Wang and Nolan Ogden lost to the Millers’ Seth Abrams and Aryaman Sampat, 0-6, 3-6.