LOCKPORT – If you wanted to see the importance of every stroke in a boys golf tournament, then Broken Arrow Golf Club was definitely the place to be on Monday when it hosted the Class 2A Lemont Sectional.
After Joliet Catholic Academy's six players took 257 shots over the front nine, the same group needed just 243 on the back nine to help it post a 321 total, which tied St. Rita for the third and final qualifying spot. And thanks to sophomore Creighton Karner turning in an 86 on the fifth scorecard, the Hilltoppers won the tiebreaker by two strokes to claim their first state trip since 2009.
So after advancing downstate for the past two years as an individual, JCA senior Jake Pluth, a 2016 all-stater, will be joined at Illinois State University's Weibring Golf Club in Normal this weekend by all of his teammates.
"I know how hard these guys have worked," Pluth said. "We've gone through a lot the last four years, so just to see us do well makes me so happy. Our kid who was our fifth score didn't do well in the front but fought on the back. This proves that every single stroke mattered. To know that I have the team at my back at state will be great. It will be a lot more relaxing to be there with my buddies and we'll have a great time. I'm looking forward to it."
Pluth led coach Mark Hansen's Hilltoppers with a 75 while junior Ryan Bell added an 80 and senior Wally Osterberger fired an 81. Senior Tanner McClintock added an 85, Karner shot an 86 and junior Adam Simon had a 93 for JCA.
"It was nerve-racking," Bell said. "All of our players fought it out until the end and it was awesome. Coach was ecstatic and we're all super-excited and motivated for state. We're going to the best that we can at state and enjoy ourselves. It's been great watching Jake at state but it was time for all of us to be down there. This is a great group of guys and we've all fought hard and it's paid off in the end."
Lemont was hoping to repeat as a sectional champion but will instead be content with for a fourth-straight state appearance and the school's ninth trip to state in the past 11 seasons.
St. Francis edged coach Mark Hollatz's Indians 298-301 for the title. Lemont was led by seniors Raymond Sullivan and Jack Kramer, who both shot a 72 to tie for second. That was three strokes behind the medalist, St. Francis' Luke Armbrust, the defending 2A champion.
Sullivan, a 2015 all-stater, becomes the first Lemont golfer to advance with his team to four-straight state finals while Kramer will be making his third state visit. The Indians also received a 77 from senior Nate Stieber, an 80 from junior Chad Biggs and an 86 from senior Matt Grasman. Sophomore Grant Sullivan also competed in the sectional.
"In the last four years, we've been getting better every single year," Raymond Sullivan said. "We shot a 304 in the regional and that was probably our best round of my four years. We're playing good golf and looking forward to state. Jack's been playing really good and is a big part of this team so hopefully the team plays good at state. Everyone steps up when we need them. This is my senior year so hopefully I can go out on a high note. It should be fun."
Kramer is also looking forward to his third state trip, since like Sullivan, this will be his final visit to the IHSA competition.
"Coach has had a lot of great teams in the past and it's an honor to be a part of this one and I think that we have something special going here," Kramer said. "We're starting to put things together at the right time, we're starting to shoot what we can as a team, and that's huge."
There was a three-way playoff to determine the final state qualifier, who was Oak Forest's Jeremy Griffin with an 80.
Nazareth Academy, which beat Lemont for the regional title, edged Brother Rice 324-325 for fourth place. Morris took ninth with a 354 total, finishing behind Pontiac (351) and just ahead of Chicago Christian (355). The Redskins were led by Eli Davy (86), Matt Dinelli (89), Jack Galloway (89), Jared Lines (90) and Mike Wozny (91).
For Coal City, Matt Misewicz shot an 87 while Russell Gomien had an 89. Peotone's John Schubbe finished between those individuals with a round of 88.