GILBERTSVILLE >> Ben Pochet’s round was reeling on Monday morning at Gilbertsville Golf Club.
The Spring-Ford senior was uncharacteristically inconsistent and in rare form, he was letting his mistakes catch up with him.
However, that all changed when he needed it to in the worst way.
Sitting at 2-over with three holes to go, Pochet strung together consecutive birdies on Nos. 16 and 17, then tapped in a clutch par-putt on No. 18 to claim the Pioneer Athletic Conference Individual Championship by a single stroke over Pope John Paul II’s J.T. Spina.
“I don’t know that I’ve ever gotten in the zone like I did late in the day,” said Pochet who shot an even-par 71. “I was running out of chances the later into the round it got. Those aren’t really two of the holes that you’d think might be the best chance but I hit a perfect drive (on No. 16) and gave myself a wedge and put myself in a good place.”
Pochet becomes the first PAC golfer not named Kyle Vance to win the PAC Individual title since the 2013 season. Vance, who captured the crown each of the past three seasons with Methacton, is now playing at Kansas State University.
Coming off a solid finish to the 2016 postseason where he captured the District One and Eastern Regional championships, Pochet adds yet another accolade to his already impressive scholastic resume with the league crown.
“Nothing he does surprises me anymore,” said longtime Spring-Ford head coach Jeff Mast. “I don’t know that any other PAC golfer ever won the trifecta – the PAC, Districts and Regionals in their career. It’s good stuff, he deserves it.”
The Drexel University commit finished with four birdies to go along four bogeys. He hit 15 greens in regulation and had 32 putts, including a three-putt bogey on the par 4 No. 15 to stumble to 2-over.
“That happens,” he said of No. 15 where his putt clinked off the back of the cup and bounced out onto the green, “just have to refocus afterward. Fortunately, I was able to pull through.”
The win earns Pochet an automatic bid where he will look to defend his title at next month’s District One Championships at Turtle Creek Golf Course. He’ll be joined by 18 other players from the PAC including runner-up Spina along with Norristown’s Caleb Ryan and Owen J. Roberts’ Ward McHenry, who each finished up the lead group at 2-over 73.
Spina was all over the place en route to the 1-over finish. He showed flashes of brilliance then mixed in some mistakes throughout, which kept his round under wraps.
For the day, he posted six bogeys and five birdies, including a run of two straight to begin his back-nine. He hit 11 fairways and 13 greens in regulation but was plagued by an untimely three-putt on No. 14.
“It was really up and down, which is a lot different from what I normally do,” said Spina, who finished third overall at last season’s PIAA Championship. “A lot of birdies, but I made a lot of stupid mistakes.”
Perhaps the most frustrating part of Spina’s day came on the final hole. After using Pochet’s lengthy birdie attempt to gain a read for his own, Spina’s attempt at a round-tying birdie didn’t break quite how he’d anticipated.
“I had an 8-footer, that I thought would stay pretty straight, maybe a little bit to the right,” he recalled of the putt which would have pushed a playoff, “and it went the other way. So that was frustrating. I wanted to win this, but I’m happy with second place.”
Finishing right behind Spina, Ryan used an eagle on the par-5 No. 8 to energize his round. The junior cruised all the way up until No. 15 before he finished with three straight bogeys on the final three holes to end the day. Collectively, he finished with two birdies, an eagle and six bogeys. He used his putter 34 times, but had four putts run right off the edge of the cup, including one on No. 18. His round also featured a 40-foot birdie putt from the fringe on No. 11.
“I wasn’t really playing on all cylinders in my estimation,” said Ryan, who last season became Norristown’s first ever district qualifier. “I came down the stretch and played well, made some good birdies. But the finish was frustrating.
“I’ve just got to forget it and move on to districts.”
Spring-Ford will send a league-high seven representatives to districts including Pochet. Teammate Steven Stumpo fired a 77 while Jack Straub, Nick Pierce and Axel Kolbach each finished up at 78. Luke Watson finished up at 79 while Drew Furman finished right at the cutoff of 80.
Methacton will send five players including Christian Rossi (74), AJ Thomas (75) and Andrew Catania (78). Jeff and Jon Cooper each finished up at 79. Along with Spina, PJP will send Greg Hiriak (76) and David Antoniuk (80). Caleb Ryan will represent Norristown along with his freshman brother Josh Ryan (74) while Andrew Giorgi (76) was the lone player from Perkiomen Valley to qualify.
Playing out of the lead group, McHenry saved his best swing of the day for the final hole. While the rest of his group played it safe and laid up short of the pond 223 yards out on No. 18, McHenry went full blast with his driver and placed his teeshot 25 yards short of the green before he chipped up and sank a birdie putt.
It was just his second birdie of the round, though he mixed in a solid 12 pars and four bogeys.
Walk In The Park
Pochet was mumbling to himself under his breath on the teebox as he put his club into the bag and headed for the rough to the right of the fairway.
“Hey, at least you’re out there playing,” a voice cried out with a smile.
Drew Clifford would have loved a chance to play in Monday’s PAC Individual Tournament. Unfortunately, it wasn’t meant to be.
Clifford, a junior player on Spring-Ford’s boys golf team, suffered a major knee injury while playing goalie with the Spring-Ford ice hockey team.
“I took one right off the knee during tryouts,” recalled Clifford. “It was a torn ACL and a broken femur. It’s definitely been tough to sit out this season. I’d love to be out here playing with the guys.”
Nevertheless, while sporting a noticeable brace on his knee, Clifford walked the length of the course with the lead group while following and cheering on teammate Pochet.