NAPERVILLE – St. Charles North senior Raghav Cherala started this golf season as the area’s most heralded player, but spent much of the season feeling a bit disappointed in his play. Monday, however, was a day of disappointment for every Tri-Cities boys golfer except Cherala.
Cherala, a two-time Upstate Eight Conference River Division Player of the Year, was the only local golfer to qualify for this weekend’s Class 3A State meet after shooting a 4-over-par 76.
“I played pretty good,” Cherala said. “I felt I played pretty solid. I missed a few birdie opportunities and a few par putts, but, 76, I’m pretty happy with that.”
Although he didn’t know it at the time, Cherala guaranteed himself a trip to The Den at Fox Creek in Bloomington by chipping in from the edge of the green for a birdie on his final hole of the day, the 421-yard, par-4 No. 9.
Cherala hit his approach shot harder than he wanted, overshooting the green. But as almost all of the rest of the North Stars watched, he struck a very precise chip shot that curved to the left and into the cup.
“I was walking up here and I was like ‘Oh, [no]. This is a tough up-and-down,’ ” Cherala said. “It was on a downhill. So I just picked out a spot, hit it, and it went in. It was probably the coolest thing I’ve ever done because I had my entire team right there cheering.”
At the time, the North Stars were hoping that shot might help them qualify for state as a team, but their total of 322 was only good for a seventh-place finish in the 12-team field. Hinsdale Central won the sectional title with a team score of 300. Wheaton Warrenville South (309) and Benet (311) also qualified for the state tournament.
Matt Samuelson carded a 79 for North and J.T. Grill added a 81.
After shooting a 41 on the back nine, Samuelson bounced back with a 2-over-par 38 on the front nine.
“The front nine’s a little bit easier on this course, but I also played better and got a couple more putts to fall,” Samuelson said. “The last seven holes I parred out, so I was really happy with that. There’s no set cut for state, but you’ve got to break 80 if you want to get in pretty much, especially in this Sectional. It’s the hardest in the state.”
As it turned out, players had to shoot 76 or lower to guarantee themselves a state berth. With a score of 77, five players tied for 10th among individuals not on a team advancing to state and had to resolve the logjam with a sudden-death playoff. The group included Gary King and Connor McCadam of St. Charles East and Batavia’s Jacob Piechota. All three bogeyed the playoff hole – the 378-yard, par-4, No. 10. Waubonsie Valley senior Jason Marrs sank a short par putt to win the playoff.
Piechota was left to ponder what might have been if he had finished his round stronger.
“Up until the 18th hole, I felt really good about my round,” he said. “My second shot, approach shot, duffed it 30 yards short. Probably the worst shot I’ve hit this season.”
He was unable to save par on the hole, leaving him at 77, instead of 76 or better.
King and McCadam’s efforts helped East to a fifth-place finish with a team total of 317.
“I hit a lot of greens, so I put myself in a good opportunity to shoot a low score,” King said. “I just couldn’t get a lot of putts to fall.”
His thoughts were echoed by McCadam.
“I had 15 pars,” McCadam noted. “I couldn’t get a birdie putt to fall. I obviously wanted that, but I was hitting it well today – hitting greens and two-putting.”
Kyle Jacobs added an 80 for the Saints and Jake Bertke and Brad Riva both came in at 83.
It was a tough day for Geneva. The Vikings finished ninth with a team score of 329. Alex Schreiber shot an 81, Graham Lillibridge carded an 82, and Nate Desens and Matt Fisher both finished at 83.
“We didn’t play very well,” Geneva coach Bill Koehn said. “I think there were a lot of nerves out there today.”
The meet marked the end of Koehn’s three-decade tenure as Geneva’s coach.
“I’ve got a lot of friends here and it’s been an interesting day, but time for a change,” he said. “I’m looking forward to the next step – where I’m going to go and what I want to do. I don’t know. Don’t be surprised if I come back in here someplace down the line.”