BLOOMINGTON – The finale of Lockport sophomore Ben Sluzas’ 2018 season was nothing short of spectacular.
After spending the day hovering near the top of the leaderboards, Sluzas found himself running out of time to make a final push for the clubhouse lead.
He headed into the final two holes of Saturday’s all-or-nothing championship round trailing Lincoln-Way Central’s Sean Curran by two strokes and needed either a hiccup from his opponent or a truly-inspired 17th and 18th holes to get past his fellow sophomore.
Though Curran didn’t help him out much and finished with a bogey on No. 17 and a birdie on the final hole to maintain his pace of three shots under par, Sluzas was able to take things into his own hands.
He inched within a stroke of Curran with a birdie on his penultimate hole, then snatched the lead in heroic fashion with a fantastically clutch eagle on the par-5 18th hole to earn himself the Class 3A state championship.
“I knew me and my buddy Will [Troy of Waubonsie Valley] were tied, and we were up near the top of the board, so I wanted to get a good drive,” he said of his 18th hole. “I hit a good drive and had the second shot at around 220 [yards] into the wind. Next shot is usually where I’d use a hybrid, but since it was into the wind, I didn’t know if I could get it up there. I was hoping to maybe chip it in on the next one within a few feet.
“I hit it really good. Since there’s a hill before the green, I couldn’t really see where it landed,” he added. “But it was right at the hole, then I heard people start really clapping. I got up the hill and realized it dropped in.”
In addition to clinching an individual state title, Sluzas’ excellent day also helped Lockport notch a third-place finish for the team title, ending up two strokes off the lead at 11-over-par as a squad.
Hinsdale Central took home the overall team title, finishing with a cumulative score of 9-over-par, while Stevenson landed in second one stroke back at 10-over.
“This was a goal all year to get down here and see if we could make some noise,” Lockport coach Matt Eber said. “Coming down, I thought we had a chance to play with the big boys. We’re a young team and a bit inexperienced, but they played well.
“Ben’s finish was unbelievable with a birdie and an eagle, and that’s exactly what you need from your No. 1 guy,” he added. “That’s exactly the type of thing we’ve come to expect from him.”
Other scorers for the Porters were seniors Nolan Weis (75), Eric Gasienica (77) and John Weis (79). VJ Greci (84) and Brody McCarthy (85) also competed for Lockport.
Lockport captured its first trophy in the sport since 2000, when it also took third place and Porter Drew Pierson won the individual title. Sluzas and Pierson are the area’s only boys golf state champions.
Curran, meanwhile, finished his sophomore year as the runner-up by ending the day at 3-under-par with a nice 69. He was obviously disappointed to surrender the lead in the last moments of the championship, but seemed happy with his outing, overall.
“I knew going into today, considering it was a one-day thing, I looked at the weather and figured shooting around 70 would be enough for a playoff and 69 would win,” Curran said. “If you would have told me I was going to shoot a 69, I would have thought that would get me a win. [Sluzas] just played a [heck] of a round, especially those last two holes.”
“I’ve played with him a lot because he’s the same age as me, we’re both sophomores, and he’s had a great year,” he added. “It’s good to get second. Obviously, I would have liked to win, but it’s always fun out here. It’s always a good time, and I’m grateful to get to do it.”
Other area players who competed included Providence Catholic’s Joey Utz (78), Lincoln-Way Central’s Juney Bai (82) and Minooka’s Dylan Pfieffer (82).