WPIAL boys golf championship returns to Sewickley Academy

Nathan Smith
| Wednesday, Oct. 16, 2013, 9:01 p.m.

The Sewickley Academy boys golf team had unfinished business this season.

The Panthers had a sour taste left in their mouths from the 2012 WPIAL Class AA team championship after finishing four strokes behind Burgettstown's 411 to place second.

Sewickley Academy made sure history didn't repeat itself as it won the 2013 championship last week for its first title since 2008.

“There is no such thing as revenge in golf,” Sewickley Academy coach Win Palmer said. “Last year was a great experience for the team, and Burgettstown played well. Unfinished business has been the team's theme.

“We came in this year knowing we had to stay focused,” Palmer said. “We knew we couldn't get too excited.”

The Panthers dominated the competition and finished with a score of 398 — a Sewickley Academy record at Cedarbrook. Burgettstown was second with a 408.

Other teams competing at the event included Freeport (418), Laurel (433), Kittanning (434) and Winchester Thurston (447).

“We set a target score of 400,” senior Keenan Hickton said. “We thought that was good enough to win. We are thrilled we shot a 398.”

Hickton was the medalist at the event after he shot 74. While he was pleased he finished at least three strokes ahead of any other golfer, he was happier that it helped the team's chances.

“I wouldn't say it was too important to me to get the lowest score as an individual,” Hickton said. “It was important, though, in the team aspect because it beats every other team's No. 1. It definitely helps.”

The surprise of the day was the play of freshman Jason Li. His 77 matched the score of Burgettstown's Owen Miller — the Blue Devils' top finisher.

“I planned to get off to a good start, and that is what I did,” Li said. “I got seven pars in a row. I used that momentum to carry me though.”

Li has proved to be the team's clutch golfer in an 18-hole setting. While his scores in the team's nine-hole matches with other teams have him as the Panthers' No. 6, his performances in 18-hole events slotted him at No. 3.

“He shot a 75 at the (team) semifinals,” Palmer said. “Don't get me wrong, all of our guys are under 40 on nine holes. But he has been phenomenal. It is difficult for freshmen to play in this environment.

“We have brought other freshmen here, and they have never broke 85.”

The team's other finishers included senior Sam Duerr (81), sophomore Scott Brown (82), junior Anthony Muscato (84) and junior Chris Brown (86).

The Panthers used some strategy in picking the order of their golfers. Duerr and Muscato — two of the more veteran players on the squad — hit the course as the team's No. 5 and 6 golfers. Palmer said the squad sent them out last due to the long wait that occurs during the championship event.

“The idea was to put veterans at the end because the waiting game wouldn't bother them,” Palmer said. “We let the younger guys go out because we thought waiting around might affect them.”

The challenge for the Panthers is to keep focused until the state championships.

While other team sports are able to schedule scrimmages to simulate postseason play, golf does not have that luxury.

And trying to simulate the course at Heritage Hills may be next to impossible.

“There is no other course out there like it,” Palmer said. “It is a very difficult course. You have to hit the ball long and accurate. And the greens are fast. We are going to have the guys keep hitting balls on the range and have them go out on the weekend and play 18 holes.”

One luxury Sewickley Academy has is that three of its golfers — Hickton, Duerr and Muscato — may get a feel for the course before Oct. 23.

The trio played in the WPIAL Class AA West Regional this week at Chestnut Ridge Golf Resort in Blairsville. If they make it through, they will play in the PIAA individual championship at Heritage Hills just prior to the team championship.

But claiming a WPIAL title has brought relief to the Panthers.

“It is a great feeling,” Brown said. “In a couple weeks we get to go to York and spend a few days as a team there. It should be a great time.”

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