By John Goralski
Dave Valentukonis and Eric Flood watched intently as Newington’s top golfer lined up his final putt. The entire foursome seemed to hold their breath as the ball skipped toward the hole. When it dropped, a cheer swept through all four of them.
“He shot a 29,” Valentukonis yelled toward his junior varsity teammates, and Flood was already shaking hands with a smiling Jake Hedberg. Southington’s junior varsity players raced down to the edge of the green to greet their opponent with handshakes even though the score wasn’t officially entered.
“You can watch a lot of golf and never see a guy hit in the 20s over nine holes,” Blue Knight coach Jim DiNello said to a visitor on the deck of the Hawks Landing clubhouse. “Jake’s a dedicated golfer, and he had a great day. What I liked the most was seeing our guys cheering for him when he made that last putt. I think that says a lot about our student athletes and our sportsmanship. That was an incredible thing to see.”
There was no worry etched across DiNello’s face. The first foursome was in, and Southington was already trailing by eight strokes. DiNello smiled again at his visitor. “We can make that up,” he said.
Truer words were never spoken. By the time the next foursome finished the last hole, Southington was holding a lead. When Joe Fazzino’s final putt fell for par, the Blue Knight score plummeted even further.
On Thursday, May 8, Hedberg earned medalist honors with his 5-under-par 29, but the Knights answered with their lowest score in program history. Fazzino led the way with a 33. Eric Flood (34), Jake D’Alessandro (36), and Drew Szandrocha (38) all managed to score in the 30s, and the Knights rallied for a 10-point victory. Newington coaches were pleased with a 151, but DiNello awas shocked by his team’s 141—the lowest in program history.
“High school golf is a team game, and we have guys in all five positions that have the capability of putting up really low scores,” he said. “That’s exactly what we did. Our No. 3, 4, and 5 guys really won this match with Eric Flood doing what he’s been doing for the whole season so far. This was a great team win.”
Still, it was Fazzino’s 1-under-par 33 as the No. 5 golfer that really settled the Southington score.
“He had such a great day. Today, it was just second best,” said DiNello. “It was an awesome score, and it helped us to get this win. That’s really a great thing.”
In recent years, it wasn’t until late May that Southington has been able to crack the 150 barrier, but they’ve never even come close to posting a 141. On the other hand, Southington was coming off a 145 score from a tri-team meet on Wednesday and a 161 score on the road on Tuesday.
It’s still early May, and the Knights are posting postseason scores. The flurry of low scores is beginning to raise expectations for the young team.
“I’m starting to think that we have a 139 in us,” said DiNello. “Of course, that’s going to take something like the 29 that Jake shot for Newington today. We’re only two strokes away, so anything could happen. If you told me that we could be shooting in the 140s for the rest of the year, I’d take that in a heartbeat.”
The week started at Stanley Golf Course in New Britain where Flood earned medalist honors with a 38. D’Alessandro scored a 39, while Szandrocha and Ryan Burrill tied for the third score with 42s. Southington beat New Britain, 161-182, but the Knights were just getting started.
The following day, they returned home to face St. Paul and North Branford in a non-conference tri-team meet. Szandrocha (35) earned medalist honors. Tom Fischer and Flood came in with 36s. Valentukonis rounded out the score with a 38, and Southington (145) beat St. Paul (177) and North Branford (182) by more than 30 strokes.
“The main thing is that we’re growing as a team and individually,” said DiNello. “Everybody’s getting better. It’s been a pattern for us, and I hope it keeps going. We usually start to play better as the weather gets better, but we’re just playing really good golf right now. We’re in the thick of it for the division. We have to have a few things happen, but I’m really happy with the way we’re playing right now. We’re grinding, and we’re having a good time.”
And the wins keep coming. With four wins last week, the Knights improved to 6-2-1 (4-2-1 in the CCC West). Southington will try to keep the momentum going this week with conference matches against NW Catholic and Hall.
How low can they go?
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By John Goralski