One advantage that West Hartford’s Northwest Catholic High School has is its proximity to its home course, Wampanoag Country Club, right across the street.
By David Heuschkel, West Hartford Press Sports Editor
As a Division IV golf team, Northwest Catholic is considered a small fish in the biggest pond in the state. The other six teams in the CCC West are either Division I or II, big and bigger schools.
But in high school golf, bigger isn’t necessarily better.
“It’s great for competition, but you’re always playing against the course,” Northwest coach Scott Fletcher said.
Northwest has obviously enjoyed a home course advantage at Wampanoag Country Club, which is literally across the street from the school. If golf courses were balls, the Lions have the best lie in the CCC West.
Northwest won its first four matches at Wampanoag this spring after winning its final six on its home course last year. That 10-match home win streak ended May 9 with a two-stroke loss to Simsbury, which shot a 163.
But it was a win on another course earlier this spring that has Fletcher believing his team can win a state title, or at least contend for one.
The Division IV state tournament is June 3 at Tallwood CC in Hebron, a course Northwest Catholic played earlier this spring. On April 29, the Lions shot a 159 at Tallwood to beat East Catholic (162) and St. Paul of Bristol (173).
East Catholic has spent much of the spring as the top-ranked team in Division III. Northwest Catholic has been first or second in the D-IV rankings. The top 20 teams in all four divisions qualify for the state tournament.
Since the CIAC went from three divisions to four in 2000, Northwest Catholic has won D-IV state titles. The Lions played in D-III the last three years, finishing sixth twice and fourth the other time.
“It’s good to be back down to Division IV where we were before,” Fletcher said. “We had been in III a few years. We had been butting heads with East Catholic, Killingly.”
Killingly beat East Catholic in a 3-hole playoff to win the D-III state title last June at Tallwood. Killingly also won it all in 2016 and East Catholic was runner-up.
This year, Northwest Catholic’s toughest competition could be Coginchaug, which finished third in the D-III tournament last year, and Coventry, which was fifth in D-IV. Of the three programs, only Northwest Catholic has won a state title – five to be exact, the last three on Fletcher’s watch.
For a team to win a state title, it needs four of its five golfers to have a good day on the same day. From the weather to course management, there are a number of factors that can come into play.
Certainly, it helps to have a three-year all-state golfer. And the Lions have one in Purdue University-bound senior Justin Mathew.
In the D-III tournament at Tallwood last year, Mathew shot a 1-over 73 to tie for second behind medalist Tyler Woodward of Coginchaug, who shot a 67. As a team, Coginchaug finished third (326) and Northwest Catholic sixth (338).
As a sophomore in 2017, Mathew was also the D-III runner-up by shooting an even-par 72 at Timberlin in Kensington. He tied for seventh as a freshman, shooting a 7-over 78 at Crestbrook Park in Watertown.
But others must step up. In each of his first three years, Mathew has been the highest Northwest Catholic finisher in the state tournament. During that time, only one other Northwest golfer cracked the top 20. Matthew Sottile tied for ninth in 2016.
In the CIAC boys individual rankings (through May 12), Coginchaug’s Woodward was far and away the highest ranked D-IV golfer with a .710 average. Jack Woods of Danbury’s Immaculate (3.66) was next and Mathew (3.713) third, followed by Coventry golfers Kyle Corrigan (3.75) and Daniel Thompson (4.30).
Northwest freshman Robert LaChance was eighth (5.12), with senior Michael Baldini 11th (5.663), freshman Jack McDermott 17th (6.60), junior Justin Defina 18th (6.637) and senior Matthew Shea 21st (6.843) among the ranked D-IV golfers. No other D-IV team had more than three golfers ranked in the top 21. Coventry had three while Coginchaug, Old Saybrook, Portland and St. Paul each had two.
The top four seeds (through May 13) were Coginchaug, Northwest Catholic, Coventry and Portland.
“You want to be in the top four,” Fletcher said. “You want to be in that last flight because you’re playing with all the better golfers and you level up your game when that happens.”
As a team, Northwest Catholic will have to play better than it did in the 18-hole Avon Invitational to win the D-IV state title. The Lions shot a 334 to finish 12th among the 20 teams at Blue Fox Run in Avon. Mathew posted Northwest’s lowest score (77). Avon and Simsbury both tied with a 299 (Avon won via the fifth golfer tiebreaker). Coventry shot a 325 and finished ninth, the highest among the four D-IV teams in the tournament.
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