Sports Town will review the 2011-12 school year during July. Today we will revisit the golf season.
Several "what if" moments took place in 2011 for boys golfers from SportsTown's South region. There were, however, many shining moments featuring competitors from the southern areas of Allegheny County and northern Washington County.
Peters Township's Tommy Nettles
One such moment was recorded by Baldwin High freshman Zack Taylor, who fired a one-under-par round of 71 to win the WPIAL Boys Division I Individual Golf Championship on Oct. 5, 2011, at Treesdale Golf and Country Club.
Trailing by four strokes at the turn following a nine-hole total of 37, Taylor fired a sparkling 34 on the back nine to edge Penn Hills senior Evan Ruhling by one stroke. Peters Township junior Tommy Nettles was the early leader following a nine-hole effort of 33, but he fell back to the pack with a 40 on the back nine and placed third with an 18-hole total of 73.
Taylor did come back to earth in the next two tournament rounds. He was the final qualifier for the state tournament with a seven-over-par round of 79 at the Western regional tournament at Tom's Run. At the state tournament in York, he finished in a three-way tie for 16th place with a 36-hole total of 155 that was 13 over par.
Other South region golfers had fine efforts at the WPIAL Individual championships.
In addition to the aforementioned Nettles, Canon-McMillan senior Ben Ducarme and Peters Township junior Trent McPherson finished with rounds of 74 and 75, respectively, to qualify fifth and sixth, respectively, for the Western regional tournament.
Thomas Jefferson senior Grant Newton was the 13th qualifier for the Western Regional tournament with a five-over-par round of 77 at the WPIAL Division I boys golf tournament. At the Western Regional, Newton finished in a four-way tie for 16th place with a six-over-par total of 78. That effort qualified him for the state tournament, where he just missed all-state honors with an 11th-place finish while carding an 11-over-par total of 153 for the 36-hole event.
One "what-if" moment might have been experienced by Nettles, who came back from his third-place finish at the WPIAL Division I individual tournament to win the Western Regioinal at Tom's Run with an even-par round of 72, one stroke ahead of Titusville's Kennedy Neely and Bradford's Josh Stauffer. And that feeling was even more evident when Nettles finished one stroke behind West Allegheny's Garrett Browning for the individual state championship. Browning fired 146, four strokes over par, while Nettles was one stroke behind.
Browning had a one-stroke lead after 18 holes, and the two were tied after 27 holes with scores of 108. Both parred the 10th hole, but Browning took control as he parred the next two holes -- a par-five and par-three -- while Nettles double-bogeyed the 11th and bogeyed the 12th . With a two-stroke advantage with just four holes remaining, Browning gave himself all the cushion he needed as he birdied the par-3 15th while Nettles bogeyed. Browning gave back two strokes on the 35th and 36th holes, but it was too much of a deficit for Nettles.
"We expected that Garrett would play well," said Peters Township coach David Kuhn. "Tommy had it there for the taking, but it didn't work out for him. He was proud of himself, and we were proud of him, too. It's the highest individual finish we've had in school history. You want to win a state tournament, but finishing second isn't bad either."
Kuhn has high hopes for Nettles next season.
"He's definitely playing at a high level," the coach said. "He's been playing at a high level since he was a freshman, and he placed 24th in the state when he was a sophomore. We're excited to have him coming back, because you can build a team around him. For the last 10 years, we've been consistent when we've had a guy like Tommy."
Plenty of talent returns with Nettles. They are rising seniors Trent McPherson -- who finished 25th at the state tournament-- and Connor Crane. Also back are rising juniors Josh Verner, Cody Ruffing and Tyler Pollack.
Verner was the competitor who called a two-stroke penalty on himself at the WPIAL team championship when he dropped his putter and the club brushed against his ball and moved it.
"He made some noise when he (called the penalty on himself)," Kuhn said. "Others didn't see it."
Of all the "what-ifs" that might have taken place, the biggest one might have been the one experienced by the Upper St. Clair boys golf team.
The Panthers fought their way into the WPIAL team championship by securing the third -- and final -- qualifying spot in the first round of the team tournament with a score of 414, nine strokes behind Central Catholic and Indiana. But at the team championship, the Panthers rebounded to fire a 383, earning the WPIAL team championship. That earned the Panthers a berth in the Western regional team tournament against five other teams.
There was no doubt this time. With four of the five spots manned by sophomores, the Panthers won the Western regional with 312 strokes, nine strokes ahead of runner-up Erie Cathedral Prep. Both teams advanced to the state championship. That's where the "what-if" moment struck the Panthers.
Three of the Panthers -- Corey Wilding (75), Thomas Steve (78) and Tim Novic (79) -- all had solid rounds on the second day. Right behind them was Grant Engel who shot an 81. But that was just enough to give Manheim Township an opening. Led by freshman Ryan Dornes' even-par round of 71, Manheim Township rallied from a one-stroke deficit after the first day to take the team title with a total of 622, three strokes ahead of the Panthers.
"I'd rather lose by 30 than lose by three," said Panthers' coach Todd Flynn. "But there are much bigger lessons in life than winning or losing a state golf tournament."
Flynn knew that his team would have a tough ride home, but by the time he had delivered them to their parents, the gloomy mood was long forgotten. "Ten minutes after we'd gotten into the van, they were rapping and singing, and I was about ready to throw them out. They're fine."
Most coaches talk about the players coming back for the following year. On paper, it looks good for the Panthers as four of the team's top five players were sophomores. Tim Novic left as he was the team's only senior on the 2011 team. So Patrick McDonnell, Steve, Wilding and Engel should be a good position to have great junior seasons.
But things aren't as easy as they appear. Both the Panthers and Peters Township conduct a rigorous tryout process that features five 18-hole rounds of golf on five different courses that will determine the makeup of the team.
"The guys know what to expect," Flynn said. "They also know they can't throw their (clubs) out there and think everyone else is going to lie down. They are going to have to work that much harder to win the section, the WPIAL and the regional to get back to the state tournament."
Flynn said that he will encourage his players to expand their horizons.
"Some of them need to play on some public courses," he said. "Well, welcome to my world. They need to see what that's like."