CANONSBURG – When Peters Township sophomore Hunter Bruce walked off the green of the No. 18 hole at Southpointe Golf Club Thursday afternoon, his mother, Marcy, was there to greet him with a hug. It was a moment fitting for Bruce's round, as his mom was there every step of the way. But his emotions took a turn when he learned who was behind him on the leaderboard.
Bruce's teammate, junior Alec Stopperich, needed a birdie on the final hole to force a one-hole playoff to determine which golfer would be the first from Peters Township to win a WPIAL title.
It was a 9-foot putt that made the difference. Stopperich ended with a par on No. 18 to finish one stroke behind Bruce, who won the WPIAL Class AAA boys championship with a 1-over-par 73. Bruce and Stopperich clinched spots in the PIAA Western Regional, which is set for Oct. 19 at Tom's Run Golf Course in Blairsville.
“I can't believe it,” Bruce said of winning the program's first title. “We've had so many good players to come through (Peters Township). For me being one of them and to be the first one to win, it feels amazing. That was a pretty cool moment to watch him on that last hole. I'm just relieved that I qualified.”
They will be joined in Blairsville by two teammates: junior Tanner Johnson and senior Connor Schmidt. Johnson tied for third place and was only two shots behind Bruce, while Schmidt tied for ninth with a 6-over 78.
Senior Jake Sollon, who reached the championships three consecutive years, narrowly missed the cut, finishing tied for 21st at 10-over 82.
A playoff seemed inevitable when Stopperich's chip shot from 121 yards landed nine feet from the pin. Needing to make birdie, Stopperich aimed left, hoping the tricky green would direct the ball right into the hole.
It missed by only three inches.
“I knew I had to make birdie and I saw Hunter at the top,” Stopperich said. “I thought, 'OK, he's on my team and I'm proud of him.' He's a young guy and he has a lot of talent. I told myself it wasn't the end of the world if I make par. I gave myself a chance and I was feeling good, but it slid left and I couldn't get it to fall.”
Bruce's feeling was in stark contrast to when he walked off the same course after a non-section match against Mt. Lebanon Tuesday evening. He shot 6-over through nine holes and struggled with his putting.
It all came together Thursday. Bruce made a putt for birdie on the 413-yard No. 16 to secure the lead.
“To be honest with you, it was unexpected, but it wasn't unexpected,” Peters Township head coach David Kuhn said. “I really felt that any of my five could have won it today. It's remarkable how he struggled a bit Tuesday and made some critical putts. That's how the pendulum swings. He got it done and I'm real proud of him.”
Bruce's biggest shot didn't come with a putter.
After a nice drive on the 371-yard No. 9, he chunked the next shot and his ball landed shy of the green at the top of the hill. Bruce followed with a chip shot that made his mother pump her fist in excitement. His shot landed in the hole for birdie, putting him at even-par and sending him to the top of the leaderboard.
It gave Bruce all the confidence he needed on the back-9.
“After I hit a perfect drive and chunked that one short, I chipped it in,” Bruce said. “That was probably the biggest highlight of my round. My mom kept me in it. She was keeping me in it with those fist pumps. It was unreal. I couldn't believe it.”
Bruce did not let consecutive bogeys on the back-9 deter him. He finally found his putting stroke to increase his lead.
It was similar to the momentum Stopperich built when he birdied two of the final four holes on the front-9 and birdied No. 14 to give himself a chance at the gold medal.
“There was something in the middle of that putt I wasn't too sure about,” Stopperich said of the putt on No. 18. “I thought I'd just play it left edge and see if it would go to the right, but it stayed there.”
The day was a milestone for Peters Township, which has had 15 golfers finish in the top 10 at the championships since 1999 and is looking for its second consecutive WPIAL team title. It was the first time it had four qualify for the regional.
“Today, we're going to celebrate and enjoy the accomplishments of Hunter, Alec, Tanner and Conner. Tomorrow, we're going to get right back to work and pick up one of our guys who is down,” Kuhn said.
Trinity senior Nathan Bazant, who was forced to withdraw from the championships last year when he experienced an irregular heartbeat, finished tied for fifth at 4-over 76 to qualify for the regional.
Bazant is scheduled to have surgery in a couple of weeks after he was diagnosed with Supraventricular Tachycardia, which is a cardiac arrhythmia.
He shot a 3-under 33 on the back-9 at the semifinal qualifier at Butler Golf Club last week to earn a spot at Southpointe and continued that strong play.
“This was revenge this year. I'm happy with a 76,” Bazant said. “I left some strokes out there, but there was no way I was walking away this year without qualifying.”