By John Goralski
Jim DiNello joked with his varsity players on the deck of Hawks Landing Country Club as the team celebrated a new program record on Tuesday, May 20. All five golfers finished with scores in the 30s over nine holes. The top four scores eclipsed the previous team record by one stroke.
Southington beat Farmington easily, 140-154, and DiNello couldn’t help himself when he laid down the next challenge. It would be nice to see a score in the 130s, he joked, but his players seemed to take it as a challenge.
The very next day, they returned to the clubhouse with similar scores. Once again, his team posted a 140-stroke record performance. Once again, all five golfers scored in the 30s. Once again, they beat an opponent by double digits—this time it was perennial power Simsbury.
DiNello was joking when he challenged them to score in the 130s, but it’s a real possibility the way the team is playing down the stretch.
“Little did I know that the very next day we would come really close to making it happen,” said the coach. “It’s funny. To them, 150 is no longer good enough. It’s 140 or they’re unhappy. I don’t think that they’re really being that fair to themselves. I know a lot of teams that would be very happy to score 150-something on this course.”
In both matches, Eric Flood led the way with an even-par 34 in both contests. Against Farmington, he was tied with Drew Szandrocha for medalist honors. Against Simsbury, Flood was alone atop the standings, but his teammates were right on his heels.
Dave Valentukonis and Joe Fazzino scored 36s in the victory over Farmington. The following day, Valentukonis and Szandrocha finished just one shot over par (35) with Jake D’Alessandro rounding out the score with a 38.
D’Alessandro’s 37 didn’t count in the first match, and Fazzino’s 38 didn’t count in the second. Those scores would have easily counted on both opponents’ rosters.
“To be a very good golf team, we need to have five guys that can score on any given day,” said DiNello. “In all fairness, we have six or seven guys right now that we can put into the rotation, and they all have the capability of going very, very low. That’s a really good problem to have as a coach. I’m so proud of the kids. They’ve taken a lot of pride in how they play.”
It’s one reason why the Knights have leapfrogged Ridgefield into second place in the Division I standings, but DiNello cautioned that the seedings are just one piece of the puzzle. To challenge for a state championship, it all comes down to one day, one performance, with no room for error. It’s a lesson that was learned at the Chappa Invitational in Westport on Thursday.
For the second time, Flood and Valentukonis represented the Knights in the annual two-man best-ball tournament at Longshore Golf Course. Glastonbury tandem Evan Grenus and Denis Biglin scored birdies on each of the last two holes leapfrog Pomperaug for the victory to finish 6-under over 18 holes (63).
Flood and Valentukonis finished tied for 27th place with a 73.
“Both guys would tell you that they could have done better,” said DiNello. “Whether or not we could have caught them, I don’t know, but I think our guys left a couple of shots out there. It’s a tough format, but they did grind it out. I’m really proud of them. They saved pars some times when you never would have thought that they could have gone up and down. I thought their lag putting was excellent. They didn’t have a lot of three-putts all day. It wasn’t great conditions, but they did well.”
So DiNello quickly added a match with Glastonbury in the final week of the season as Southington prepares to make a title run. If you want to be the best, you have to play the best. The Knights haven’t won a championship since 1987. Can this be the year that they snap the drought?
“I think we have to be careful with expectations, but when you almost break 140 three times it’s fair to say that you have a lot of guys capable of playing on any day,” DiNello said. “Our regular season is all about positioning, but that doesn’t really matter in the postseason. It really just comes down to the 20 best teams battling it out over one day. What positioning does give you is the confidence that you need. You want to feel good about yourself, and right now our guys feel really good about themselves.”
To comment on this story or to contact sports writer John Goralski, email him at email@example.com.