Pinelands Golfers Clinch Division Title, Remain Undefeated

May 16, 2018
Photo by: David Biggy Pinelands golfer Connor Carney shoots his way out of a sand trap on the second hole at Sea Oaks Golf Club during the Wildcats’ victory over Donovan Catholic on May 11.

As a high school golf coach, there’s no better feeling than knowing all your team’s best players are coming back for another year or two. And when your team is undefeated with one match left, it’s like living on Easy Street.

“Pinelands had a really great team in 1996 that went undefeated,” said coach James Becker, whose Wildcats were 13-0 following a 176-189 victory over Donovan Catholic on May 11. “Regardless of what happens in our section tournament (on Monday), this season has been unreal. We have a true team, and they’re all great together. There’s always somebody to pick up the others if somebody’s having a rough day. And having three top-notch players leading the way is awesome.”

As has been the case for the entire season, junior Connor Carney and sophomores Kayla Gutierrez and Austin Carney were the crew atop the leaderboard for the Wildcats against the Griffins.

On the first two holes, Gutierrez struggled a bit to get moving in the right direction but turned things around during the next seven holes, while the Carney brothers were consistent throughout the front nine at Sea Oaks Golf Club.

“On the first hole, I hit my driver into the woods, so I was mad about that,” said Gutierrez, who finished the day with a 5-over-par 41, which led the squad. “On the second hole, I did the same thing, so that wasn’t the start I was hoping for. But I didn’t give up and finished really well.”

Connor Carney was 3 over par going into the 310-yard, par-4 third hole but added just three more bogeys to it during the last seven, finishing with a 42. Austin Carney finished with a 43, while senior Ben DeFiglio and freshman Nate Szwed completed the top-five scorecard with 50s.

“This season has been so much fun,” said Connor, who on May 9 led the Wildcats with a 39 to help them clinch the Shore Conference Class B South division title with a 176-178 win over Barnegat – a match Pinelands played without Gutierrez. “It’s such a confidence booster to be as good as we are, as a team, at this point of the season. Every day, we’re all trying to get better. But we’ve all played really well this season.”

The Wildcats were scheduled for one more contest, against Donovan Catholic, on Tuesday, May 15. Another victory would mark the current squad as one of the best in Pinelands’ history.

“Did I plan for us to be undefeated? No,” Becker said. “But they’re a committed bunch of players, and when they’re playing well, they can do amazing things. The only thing I can really do is keep them focused.”

Behind Connor Carney against Barnegat, Austin Carney carded a 41, which ultimately is what made the difference, since Nick Spitz and Peter Toth led the Bengals with 42s and Maxwell Lares came back to the clubhouse with a 44. DeFiglio fired a 47 and David Laney contributed a 49 for the victory.

“I’m extremely proud of everybody on the team,” Gutierrez said. “I wasn’t expecting us to be this good, but we’ve all played well the whole season. When we all have good days, it’s great. But even when somebody has an off day, we have others who are scoring well.”

And the fact that only DeFiglio is graduating in June means the sky’s the limit for next season, when five of Pinelands’ top six players will be back in action.

“I’m super excited for this team,” Connor said. “We’re going to miss Ben, but it’s going to be awesome having most of us back next year. We’ll have a lot on our shoulders because the expectations will be higher. But those are going to be our expectations, so that’s OK with us. We expect a lot of ourselves, anyway.”

In Monday’s Central-South Jersey sectional tournament, Pinelands placed sixth with a 246, five strokes behind fifth-place Hopewell Valley. Connor Carney paced the Wildcats with an 81 at Twisted Dune Golf Club in Egg Harbor.

— David Biggy

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