Leechburg's Barto claims school's first WPIAL golf title

| Tuesday, Sept. 25, 2012, 1:15 a.m.

Matt Barto dislikes slow play, but that wasn't an issue for him Monday morning because the Leechburg junior was in the first group to tee off in the WPIAL Class AA championship.

But playing fast also can have its disadvantages in tournament golf. Like having to wait — and wait — for the rest of the field to finish.

Scoreboard-watching for hours after his round, the anxious Barto finally breathed a sigh of relief when the field finished and nobody threatened his clubhouse lead — a solid 1-over par 73 that gave Barto his school's first golf title at Youghiogheny Country Club in McKeesport.

“It was great to get out early and fly like that,” said Barto, last year's runner-up. “I don't have a routine. I see the shot and hit it. I just kept getting nervous when they'd add names (to the leaderboard) and I thought mine dropped.”

Instead, Barto simply set a pace that no one could catch. The kid who topped his tee shot on the first hole of the championship at the same course two years ago, topped the field this time.

“He's a worrier,” Leechburg coach Heath Shimer said. “But he cares so much about his game. He works so hard and puts in the time. I don't know if, in my tenure, I'll coach another one like him.”

Three seniors — Jesse Vensel of McGuffey, Darren Carone of Shenango and Matt Cioffi of Neshannock — tied for second after posting 75s. Sewickley Academy junior Keenan Hickton was fifth at 77.

The top 16 players earned spots in the PIAA Western Regional qualifier Oct. 15 at Tom's Run Golf Course in Blairsville.

Barto's round included four birdies, which had him at 2-under through 14. That turned out to be a cushion because he bogeyed three of the final four holes to close somewhat frustrated.

“I played too safe for how good I was hitting it, if that makes sense,” Barto said. “There was no need for me to back off some shots, but I did. I was hitting it oddly far.”

He drove the uphill, 274-yard third hole and made a tap-in birdie. He had a 60-yard pitch left on the 365-yard 9th, and had only 40 yards in to the 340-yard 18th.

Another qualifier, Kittanning's Jordan Klodowski, who tied for ninth, played in Class AAA last year, but Kittanning dropped due to enrollment.

“There's no difference in the quality of golfers,” Klodowski said. “There are a lot of good players out here. Barto played great. He doesn't have many misses, and when he does, he doesn't miss bad.”

Bill Beckner Jr. is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at bbeckner@tribweb.com or 724-224-2696.

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