Tri-Cities golf teams up to challenge
WEST CHICAGO – Batavia senior boys golfer Jacob Piechota rated St. Andrews' green difficulty on a scale of 1 to 10 after Tuesday's IHSA Class 3A St. Charles East Regional.
Piechota assigned the highest possible score, a figure he guessed was four or five slots greater than when the same course hosted the Upstate Eight Conference River Division tournament last week.
What's that they say about familiarity breeding contempt?
While Tri-Cities athletes ultimately aced the test – champion St. Charles East (319), Geneva (321) and St. Charles North (326) advanced to next week's sectionals, along with Piechota and two Bulldogs teammates – the ride proved considerably bumpier than golfers first thought.
"Today, you couldn't put a ball above the hole," Piechota said. "Unless you hit the cup or made it, you couldn't have kept it within five feet. It was just going to roll on down."
Saints senior Luke Molloy's 5-over par 76 edged teammate Kyle Jacobs and Geneva freshman Graham Lillibridge by two strokes for individual medalist honors.
Still beaming after watching the opening stages of a four-man playoff that determined the final two individual sectional spots, Molloy told of a tempered approach through his smile.
"I think it really helped to have a strong mind today because so many of the pin placements were too hard," he said. "There were a lot of holes where you had to accept a bogey and move on, and I did that quite a few times."
Rough starts were the norm rather than the exception. East's Brad Riva opened at 8-over after five holes en route to an 83. Piechota smoothed out an 8-over start after six holes to emerge with an 80.
If something had to give, neither senior wanted it to be his polo and equipment as a typically comfortable course stood between competitors and Monday's Naperville Central Sectional at the less-acquainted Springbrook.
Riva, for one, rallied behind a motivational speech from coach John Stock, whose volume still fell inside the boundaries of golf etiquette.
"He's like, 'I want to see the fire in your eyes,' " Riva said, "so I got that going, started getting more motivated, more energy, and it helped me turn it up."
Balancing emotional pangs with course management was made slightly easier at St. Andrews, which hosted a sectional in 2012.
Third-place North relied on steady play from seniors Raghav Cherala (81), Santino Salamone (81), Matt Samuelson (82) and JT Grill (82) to advance to sectionals as a team for the fourth straight season.
"There were some tough situations on the greens today, and I know it's the same for everybody, but still, when you're a high school kid, it's a regional, it's a big deal," North Stars coach Rob Prentiss said. "And when you're struggling on the greens, they don't know everybody else is struggling, too, you know what I mean? I'm proud of them for hanging tough."
Among the more difficult green-pin placement combos players cited was the par-5 14th hole. Lillibridge was among those who were taken aback, despite scoring an eagle.
Facing a headwind on his third shot from about 113 yards out, Lillibridge clubbed up and decided on a knock-down 9-iron approach. The shot eventually provided great salve for two successive bogeys.
"I knew I needed to stay below the hole because that pin placement was really tough," Lillibridge said. "When I hit it, it was going right at [the hole], and I was like, 'Oh, that should be good.' And then I saw it fly past and kind of start coming back. It kind of kept creeping closer and closer, and then it just disappeared, and I was shocked."
Lillibridge matched his conference tournament score to lead runner-up Geneva, which handed East its lone loss of the UEC River duals season in winning the league title. Brett Hassels (80), Alex Schreiber (81) and Dan Cisco (82) were next for the Vikings.
Molloy shaved two strokes from last week's 78, but Stock was equally encouraged with Riva and Jake Bertke (82), who "did what seniors have to do" in scoring after not factoring into the team score last week.
Batavia's Nick LaRocco (84) nearly made it four Bulldogs entrants, but was eliminated after the first playoff hole.
Batavia senior Nick Bleidorn, who notched an 83 to advance as an individual alongside teammates Nick Robinson (83) and Piechota, recovered after not scoring at conference. Crediting a swing adjustment, he's now Springbrook-bound and ready for whatever the course has to offer.
"We're just going to have to take it and just hit shots straight, you know," Bleidorn said. "If you don't know the course all that well, you've just got to focus on hitting the ball where you're aiming."
Should the green happen to intervene after that, it's just another adjustment.