By John Goralski
Jim DiNello felt his heart sink as he counted Dave Valentukonis’ fifth shot on the final hole, but the senior strolled up to the clubhouse with a wide grin to greet his coach. DiNello had seen Joe Fazzino struggle on the seventh tee, but Fazzino seemed to skip off the ninth green at the end of his round.
DiNello shuffled through the scorecards and couldn’t believe his eyes. For every bad hole that a Blue Knight posted, there seemed to be two that were off the charts. Four players scored in the 30s over nine holes. Two finished just one stroke over par, and even the alternate score was approaching the 30s.
DiNello was overjoyed when his team posted a 148 against Conard on their first May contest, but on Friday, May 10 he was shocked with the team’s 146.
“It was just a terrific day for our program,” said the coach. “When we scored the 148, you always wonder if that’s as low as you can go. Any score under 150 is really good, but the kids came in and shot a 146 today. I’m just really proud of them. It wasn’t necessarily a smooth 146, but some kids really battled and saved strokes all over the place. That’s a great day.”
For the third time in four contests, Eric Flood set the pace for the Knights. He posted the team’s lowest score (39) on Monday during a road loss to Hall. He finished second on Tuesday (40) as the Knights opened up their home stand with a 158-164 win over Newington. His lowest score came on Thursday when he claimed medalist honors with an even par (34) on the front nine during a 150-158 win over NW Catholic.
On Friday, Flood’s 35 set the pace for the Knights once again.
“He’s hitting greens like crazy, and he’s playing smart golf,” said DiNello. “His swing is smooth, and he’s controlling the golf ball. He knows where it’s going to go, and he’s been in a groove. He’s playing with a lot of confidence and carrying himself the right way.”
Even with five strokes on the final hole, Valentukonis matched Flood for the best score of the day. Valentukonis scored a 40, a 41, and a 39 over the past three matches, but his 35 on Friday was the difference for the Knights.
“We talk a lot about how it’s not what you do on one hole but what the scorecard says about the entire round,” said DiNello. “You have to keep it in perspective. I watched Eric and Dave play together today, and it was so nice to watch them help each other to navigate around the course. They both complimented each other very well.”
In addition, the week showcased Southington’s depth. On Monday, Andrew Szandrocha (41) and Tom Fischer (43) scored for the Knights. Against Newington, Jake D’Allesandro led the Knights with a 36, and Szandrocha capped the scoring with a 41. Thursday saw Szandrocha and Fischer tying for third place in the scoring with 40s, while Fazzino (37) and Szandrocha (39) broke 40s during the team’s school record performance at Hawks Landing on Friday.
“One of the biggest things I’ve seen is that they’re starting to play for each other. I’ve noticed that they understand that what they do doesn’t just affect their score. Their score affects the team success,” said DiNello. “The camaraderie’s there. The talking all around the course is there. They’re helping each other out. The older boys are mentoring the younger boys. There are a lot of positives that are all there.”
The score is just the measure. Can the Knights eclipse the 146? Can they do it on the road or in the state tournament? DiNello can’t wait to find out.
“It really doesn’t matter who you’re playing. It’s basically you versus the golf course and you against yourself,” he said. “You’re always trying to do your best, and who you play shouldn’t matter. It think it’s starting to sink in a little bit, and the kids are taking pride in the way that they play.”
The best is yet to come.
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