MECHANICVILLE — Niskayuna golf coach Ben Smith fought back tears for more reasons than one after his deep Niskayuna boys’ golf team pulled out a dramatic win over Shenendehowa with help from a second tie-breaker in Thursday’s Section II Class A Championship at Fairways of Halfmoon.
Niskayuna, led by medalist Vincent Liguori’s 2-over-par 73, and Shenendehowa, paced by Aidan Campbell’s 74, tied for first with a score of 320 — based on each school’s top four players. The first tie-breaker was the fifth player on each team’s roster, but Nicholas Dunn of Niskayuna and Nick Beacher of Shen both carded a 93. That meant the next tie-breaker was the respective sixth player for each school, and that was the difference. Henry Marcinuk carded a 94 for Niskayuna, while Evan McDonald posted a 95 for Shen.
The victory was sweet, but not just because it was over a friendly rival for a sectional crown. Smith has been through an emotional roller coaster after the recent illness and eventual death of his father, Daniel, who was both an avid golfer and bowler.
“It’s been a rough summer,” Smith said. “We just kept plugging away. But guys didn’t know about my dad’s situation. I also coach the girls’ team and my girls’ team knew about it. They were very supportive. The only reason they knew was that I had to send them a group text mentioning that I wouldn’t be able to be there to coach them one day. But I don’t think the boys really knew. I wanted them to stay focused and not to worry about me. That’s the same way my dad was with me toward the end. He wanted me to keep coaching my kids and not to worry about him.”
Smith raved about his team’s depth, which kept the Warriors in just about every match this season.
“This is unreal,” he said. “Depth was everything for us. That was the key for us all year. Every single match we needed depth. We only lost two matches, by seven strokes to Saratoga and by one stroke to Shenendehowa. That’s it. Everybody else we beat in close matches. We basically beat you down with one 41 after another 41. I think there was one match where we had a 40, 40, 41 and 47.
“I’m super proud of these guys. They are a self-starting group. We have guys who really work hard, and then some of the other guys jumped on board.”
Smith also serves as the Class A site chairman, so ironically, he and Shenendehowa coach Chris Douglas ran the tournament from the Fairways of Halfmoon’s large clubhouse instead of watching their players out on the course. When they checked and rechecked the scores, the coaches hugged each other.
“The site coordinator job came up a couple of years ago,” Smith said. “After the Saratoga coach let it go, it was a nice transition for me. I’m a computer guy and a golf guy, so I love doing this kind of stuff. I also love doing it for the kids.”
Liguori led the way for the Silver Warriors. The junior bounced back from three consecutive bogeys on the front nine with three birdies and an eagle on the par-4 16th hole.
“I was hitting my driver pretty well today,” Liguori said. “I was able to hit the greens because my good drives set up my approach shots. The only holes I played badly were the ones where I missed the greens. It’s been a pretty good year for me overall. I played pretty well in our matches, but I haven’t been playing that well in the last month. I really wasn’t hitting a lot of greens lately until today.”
Rounding out the Niskayuna lineup were Brayden Kehoe with a 77, Matt McClenon with an 83 and Connor Desjardins with an 87.
Meanwhile, Shenendehowa also played brilliantly on Fairways of Halfmoon’s challenging par-71 layout.
Campbell led the way for the Plainsmen with an eagle and several birdies.
“The course definitely played tough today,” Campbell said. “My ball-striking was great, but I had five 3-putts. My swing was feeling really good today. I only had one bad swing, and that was a duck hook on the last hole.
The highlight of Campbell’s round was an eagle on the par-5 seventh hole.
“I didn’t even have that great of a drive on that hole, but I worked it to the left side and left about 196 yards to the hole,” he said. “I hit a 4-iron to about 10 feet and I made a slider of a putt.
“I had two 3-putts in the first three holes, and I was 3-over-par in the first four holes, but my swing still felt good. That eagle putt gave me a jump in energy, and a birdie on that same nine also helped me get back to 1-over-par.”
“This course was definitely playing hard today,” Campbell added. “You could see a lot of the top players not playing their usual game.”
Seven players broke 80. Besides Liguori, Campbell and Kehoe, Avi Meyers of Shenendehowa shot a 78, Timmy Esmay of Guilderland posted a 79 and James Gerdeman of Albany Academy also shot a 79.
Thirty-seven players made the cut at 91 or better and advanced to Saturday’s NYS ABCD Qualifier back at Fairways of Halfmoon.
Team scores — x-Niskayuna 320, Shenendehowa 320, Saratoga Springs 325, Shaker 332, Guilderland 340, Albany Academy 343, Ballston Spa 348, CBA 349, Bethlehem 372.
x-Won on second tie-breaker.
Qualifiers — Vincent Liguori (Niskayuna) 73, Aidan Campbell (Shenendehowa) 74, Brayden Kehoe (Niskayuna) 77, Kieran Cummins (Shaker) 77, Avi Meyers (Shenendehowa) 78, Timmy Esmay (Guilderland) 79, James Gerdeman (Albany Academy) 79, Travis Taylor (Columbia) 80, Devin Kim (Saratoga) 80, Ryan Komp (Shenendehowa) 80, Henry Parobeck (Saratoga) 81, Noah Caney (CBA) 81, Carter Sica (Saratoga) 81, Carter Lamport (Ballston Spa) 82, Jack Hoblock (Shaker) 82, Matthew McClenon (Niskayuna) 83, Declan Ladd (Saratoga) 83, Michael Desmond (Ballston Spa) 83, Mike Pisinski ( Shaker) 84, Liam Levack (Queensbury) 84, Ben Heidbreder (Albany Academy ) 85, Diego Clark (Bethlehem) 86, CJ Strong (CBA) 86, Dorin Chang (Queensbury) 86, Connor Desjardins (Niskayuna) 86, Dixon Boggs (CBA) 86, Evan Schrievogl (Guilderland) 86, Kellen Dean (Saratoga) 88, Riley Mitchell (Guilderland) 88, Chad Maurer (Guilderland) 88, Eric Spoth (Shenendehowa) 88, Chris McGarvey (Shaker) 89, Justin Robbie (Ballston Spa) 89, Ryan Murphy (Shaker) 89, Ryan Taulien (Albany Academy) 90, Tanner Fearman (Queensbury) 90.
Other scores — Nicholas Dunn (Niskayuna) 93, Nick Beacher (Shenendehowa) 93, Logan Manziano (Bethlehem) 93, Mike Iovieno (Albany Academy) 93, Chick Lasch (Albany Academy) 94, Charlie Blake (Saratoga Springs) 94, Chris Desmond (Ballston Spa) 94, Henry Marcincuk (Niskayuna) 94, Townes McKiernan (Mohonasen/Schenectady) 95, Evan McDonald (Shenendehowa) 95, Dylan Daunais (Mohonasen/Schenectady) 95, Joey Degnan (Troy) 95, Kevin Carey (CBA) 95, Dewey Mongue (Bethlehem) 96, Andrew Cerf (Bethlehem) 97, Nate Hill (Ballston Spa) 97, Gavin Tribley (Ballston Spa) 98, Quinn Healy (Amsterdam) 100, Jack Leonard (Bethlehem) 101, Jack Hennessy (CBA) 101, Jack Gallagher (Guilderland) 106, Brennan Reiner (Guilderland) 108, Dan Riley (Amsterdam) 114, Sal Conti (Amsterdam) 129.
Reach Bob Weiner at [email protected]