No silver lining for Blue Devils, Vallina
No silver lining for Vallina and Blue Devils
Owen Miller of Burgettstown hits out of a hazard on the No. 8 hole during the WPIAL Class AAA team championships. Despite a double-bogey on the par-4 hole, Miller finished with a 77.
Eleanor Bailey / The Almanac
BELLE VERNON – One of the most successful high school coaching runs in Washington County history reached an end Thursday on a sun-baked afternoon at Cedarbrook Golf Club. It ended with Burgettstown boys golf coach Jon Vallina and his Blue Devils toting home a trophy they seemed disappointed to have in their possession.
Burgettstown, the defending champion, finished runner-up to Sewickley Academy in Class AA at the WPIAL Team Golf Championships. Burgettstown edged Sewickley Academy by four strokes in last year’s finals. This time, the Panthers, sparked by a 5-over par 77 from No. 4 player Jason Li, defeated the Blue Devils, 398-408, in the six-team final.
The competition was the last in a team format for Burgettstown under Vallina, who built the Blue Devils into the premiere Class AA program in the WPIAL. Vallina is stepping down after 29 years as coach. He guided the Blue Devils to five WPIAL team championships and a half dozen runner-up finishes, including three of the last four years. Burgettstown had a 369-83 record – a remarkable .816 winning percentage – in dual matches under Vallina.
Vallina’s final duties will be to coach senior Owen Miller and sophomore Cody Dobbin, each of whom have qualified for the PIAA Individual Western Regional next week at Tom’s Run Golf Club in Blairsville.
“We wanted to win the WPIAL championship to make his last year a good one,” said Miller, who led the Blue Devils at 5-over 77. “We came here to practice four or five times in the last week and a half. This was our last big chance to win the title.”
That chance was derailed by a few cart paths, several hazards and a slightly higher team score than expected.
Miller, for example, twice had shots bounce off the cart path. One went out of bounds, the other into a hazard.
“That’s four extra strokes, right there,” Vallina said. “When you get to the finals, there are three or four teams here that are good enough to win. Those shots make a difference.”
Most people, however, expected it to be a showdown between Burgettstown and Sewickley Academy.
“We played well in the semifinals Tuesday,” Vallina said. “If we would have played that well today, then we would have won. I told (Sewickley Academy coach) Win Palmer during the season that the finals were going to come down to our teams. Whoever had the better day was going to win. They had the better day.”
Dobbin shot 78 to give Burgettstown a pair of sub-80s rounds. Ryan Latkovic had a solid 82, and Hunter Lecker shot 85 while Michael Couch overcame a slow start to shoot 86.
Sewickley Academy’s Keenan Hickton was the Class AA medalist with 74. Li shot his pivotal 77, and the Panthers’ Sam Duerr (81) and Scott Brown (82) had strong rounds.
“This was a letdown,” Miller said. “We didn’t want to go for second place.”
The Peters Township boys can relate to Burgettstown’s disappointment. The Indians, who won three WPIAL titles in the last 10 years, struggled from the start and finished in fourth place with a 414 total in Class AAA. Upper St. Clair, PT’s section rival, won the title by shooting 381. USC senior Grant Engel was medalist at 3-under 69 that included 33 on the Gold Course’s back nine. Thomas Steve, a Notre Dame recruit, shot 71.
USC won the team title in 2011 en route to a second-place finish in the state. Last year, however, the Panthers failed to advance to the WPIAL finals. Steve said that disappointment was motivation this year.
“We talked about that all the time. We learned that we can’t just play. Nobody is going to bow down to us. Everyone here is capable of winning. Everyone here is good. We were worried about Peters Township. They always play well against us.”
The Indians defeated USC on the Panthers’ home course during the regular season, but PT couldn’t match the scores Engel and Steve registered. Ryan Pollack, Josh Verner and Cody Ruffing led the Indians, each shooting 81.
While Peters Township’s boys team was disappointed with its performance, the young PT girls were ecstatic with a third-place finish in Class AAA. The Indians, who do not have a senior, have only five players on the entire team and three of those are freshmen. PT shot 353, only nine strokes behind first-place Penn Trafford.
“We can’t be disappointed with that,” PT coach Brian Farrell said. “We lost five of our seven players from last year. … To come here and be in the mix is a huge accomplishment. It’s a good sign for next year.”
Synclaire Kuhn, the daughter of PT boys coach Dave Kuhn, led the Indians and tied for medalist honors with a 78 on the par-71 Red Course. Freshman Mia Kness followed with 82.
Central Valley won the Class AA girls title by a whopping 82 strokes over runner-up Sewickley Academy.