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Baldwin's golfers secure berth in WPIAL Class AAA team playoffs

| Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2012, 9:40 p.m.

The Baldwin boys' varsity golf team has produced another winning season.

In the 25 years since Jim Stanko took over as head coach, the Highlanders have won 10 section titles, and have had two WPIAL individual champions — Zack Taylor, in 2011, and Andy Latowski, in 1997.

They've never had a losing season.

Baldwin ended the 2012 regular seaon with a 12-4 overall record, and secured a berth in the WPIAL Class AAA team playoffs by finishing in a tie for second place with Mt. Lebanon in Section 6.

Bethel Park won the section crown.

The top two teams in a section qualify for the playoffs. But since there was a tie for second and Baldwin and Mt. Lebanon split their matches, both teams qualified.

Though winning the section always is a team goal, Stanko is pleased the Highlanders advanced to the WPIAL playoffs.

“There are five teams in our section capable of being a playoff team. We're happy to be where we are,” he said.

The WPIAL individual section qualifiers were held recently.

Four Baldwin golfers qualified for the WPIAL semifinal round during the individual section qualifiers last month.

They are senior Greg Stofanek, who carded a 78, juniors Bailey Cavanaugh (77) and Tony Thornton (79), and sophomore Zack Taylor (79).

The foursome played at Cranberry Highlands, where the top 12 finishers advanced to the WPIAL championships.

Taylor, Cavanaugh and Thornton each shot an 80, forcing a sudden-death playoff.

Cavanaugh three-putted the first playoff hole, then Thornton bogeyed the second, giving Taylor the 12th and final berth from the Cranberry Highlands site.

Taylor shocked the field last year, winning the WPIAL Division I championship as a freshman. He was the first freshman to win in WPIAL history.

Stanko said it will be tough for him to repeat his WPIAL success from last year.

“Getting to the finals is difficult enough,” Stanko said, “then you are up against the best 36 golfers in the whole WPIAL. Repeating is extremely difficult.”

But Stanko also admits Taylor is a young golfer who has both the athleticism and desire to succeed.

“Golf is his game,” Stanko said. “He does everything you need to do to be really good. He's really driven.

“Last winter, he hardly ever missed a day in the golf room.”

Several others on the local team contributed to the Highlanders' successful regular season.

Stofanek, a three-year letterman, helped clinch several key matches this season.

“It's a huge plus for us to have someone improve so much for us in his senior year,” Stanko said.

Junior Blake Bennett is a three-year letterman who started most of the matches.

Cavanaugh and Thornton are steady varsity players as well. Alexx Suchy, a sophomore, loves the game and practices a lot, the coach said.

Senior Matt Zora also contributed this year, while freshman Kevin Sullivan is a young player to watch.

“Golf is dominated by country club schools where they play a lot of golf,” Stanko said. “Peters, Upper St. Clair, North Allegheny and Pine-Richland almost exclusively win the championship.

“It's an uphill climb for us because of these powerhouse teams.”

But Stanko acknowledged his team has the ability to compete with the best golfers on any given day.

The WPIAL team semifinals will be held Tuesday at two different sites. The top three finishers will advance to the championship round on Oct. 11.

“If they play like they did (at the WPIAL qualifiers) with four guys shooting in the 70s, we'll do well,” Stanko said. “It certainly would be a feather in our cap to qualify for the (team) championship.”

Jennifer Goga is a freelance writer.

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