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Leechburg's Barto takes first step in WPIAL golf title defense

| Tuesday, Sept. 17, 2013, 12:28 a.m.
Matt Grubba | Leader Times
Leechburg senior Matt Barto taps in a putt to finish at 1-over-par 73, the low score at the WPIAL Section 1-AA qualifier Monday, Sept. 16, 2013, at Deertrak Golf Club in Rural Valley.
Matt Grubba | Leader Times
Kittanning junior Noah Kuntz hits his approach on the par-4 fifth hole during the WPIAL Section 1-AA qualifier on Monday, Sept. 16, 2013, at Deertrak Golf Club in Rural Valley. Kuntz shot a 13-over 85 to earn one of five spots in the WPIAL Class AA championships.

Matt Barto's first step toward a second WPIAL title is complete.

Barto fired a 1-over-par 73 to post the low round of the Section 1-AA qualifier for the fourth time in four years Monday at Deertrak Golf Club.

The Leechburg senior, who was the runner-up at last year's Western Regional and PIAA championship, will have a shot at his second straight WPIAL Class AA title and fourth trip to the Western Regional when he competes in the WPIAL championship Sept. 25 at Sewickley Heights Golf Club.

“I'm a better player than I was last year, and I know that,” Barto said. “I really feel like I can one-up myself from last year every step of the way. I know I can win the WPIAL again, and I'd like to win the regional and make a run at winning states like I did last year.”

Joining Barto at Sewickley Heights are the rest of the top five finishers from the section qualifier: Kittanning junior Noah Spang (82), Freeport senior Cole Hepler (83), Kittanning junior Noah Kuntz (85) and Freeport sophomore Mickey Frazetta (85).

But Barto was the talk of the day at Deertrak not only for his round in general but also for his second shot on the par-5 ninth hole.

Perched at an elevated location approximately 270 yards from the hole, Barto rattled the flagstick with a 4-wood approach that was nearly his first career double-eagle and the first double-eagle on No. 9 in Deertrak's history. The ball rolled away from the hole, and Barto had to settle for a two-putt birdie, but that still left him with a 2-under-par 34 for his front nine.

“I feel like my experience has helped me learn to score better even when things aren't going my way. I can grind a score out better,” Barto said. “Today was all about hitting the ball well. Sometimes you end up not scoring well here even when you do hit the ball well, but everything went pretty swell today.”

Kittanning had a handful of close calls at the sectional as three of the Wildcats missed the cut by one or two strokes. Cole Davis shot an 86, and both Christian Miller and Nathan Falchetti shot 87 for the Wildcats.

“I feel like we have the most solid top five in our section,” Spang said. “I would have liked to see a couple more of the players on our team squeak in, but I'm especially glad that Noah (Kuntz) qualified. I've played with him in our matches since freshman year, and I feel like we'll both do well up there.”

The top players from the others schools represented at the sectional were Ford City's Chuck Cippel (90), West Shamokin's Cory Egley (92) and Burrell's Jordin Walker (97).

Matt Grubba is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at mgrubba@tribweb.com or via Twitter @Grubba_Trib.

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