FLEETWOOD >> Last week, J.T. Spina was a 15-foot putt away from watching the rest of the postseason back at home.
Worse yet, back in the classroom.
Less than a week after the Pope John Paul II senior rallied to keep his PIAA Tournament hopes alive, Spina punched his ticket to states on Monday when he fired a 1-over 73 and tied for third place at the PA Eastern Regional Golf Championships at Golden Oaks Golf Club.
There’s a common formula that seems to come in to play during the golf postseason each year: as the stakes get higher, the temperatures drop. That was the case Monday as a cold, damp morning turned into a breezy, challenging afternoon.
“I knew par would be a good number coming in,” said Spina, who finished tied with Norristown junior Caleb Ryan. “So I tried to stay focused on making pars. I wasn’t really getting too aggressive — I hit it a lot to the center of greens and tried to two-putt and get out.”
Spina finished right on the heels of Warwick junior Brock Fassnacht, who took the title with a 2-under 70. Right behind Fassnacht was reigning District One champ Ben Pochet, from Spring-Ford, who posted a 1-under 71.
For his round, Spina finished with four birdies and five bogeys — three of which came on his final five holes.
“A couple sloppy mistakes late,” he added, “but overall I’m happy just to be moving on.”
Spina’s potential berth in the state tournament was very much in doubt after the opening round of the District One Championships last week. He opened up the two-day tournament with a 3-over first round to survive the first cut by a single stroke. He then woke up the next morning and birdied four of his first six holes on the way to a fifth-overall finish at 2-under.
Safe to say, that altered his approach entering the one-day Eastern Regional Tournament where one doesn’t have the luxury of a bounce-back round.
“Patience,” he explained, was the difference. “I knew I needed to be more patient today than I was the first day last week. I think I got a little nervous going into districts, and that’s what got me.”
Now he moves on, where he’ll look to better last year’s third-place finish at Heritage Hills Golf Resort.
Like Spina, Pochet kept a hot-streak rolling from his second round of districts. The senior was consistent and solid throughout his round, mixing in a pair of birdies with a single bogey on No. 15 — his first in 32 holes — on his way to his runner-up finish.
His putter proved to be his savoir throughout, especially on a day where swirling winds made any approach that much more challenging.
“Inside 10 feet, I was nearly perfect,” said Pochet, who flashed his putter 33 times. “With the slopes and the speed of the greens on this course, it’s really tough to get it close if you’re more than 20 or 30 feet away. With how big the greens are too, you get (in that position) a lot. So at a place like this, it’s important to make the 4-footers.”
At this point, Pochet can only hope that his hot-streak continues at states.
“I played pretty well this summer, but definitely not this well and not this consistently,” he said. “My ball-striking, which has been the one thing that’s been a little shaky, has been pretty good the last couple rounds.
“I’m not gonna mess with anything before next week and hopefully we can keep this going,” he added with a laugh.
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Monday’s cut ended up being 7-over and below, which sent District One runner-up Patrick Sheehan home empty-handed as he finished right at 80.
Exeter’s Alex Seelig finished up at 3-over 75 tied with William Tennent’s Colin Walsh for fifth while Owen J. Roberts’ senior Ward McHenry was tied for seventh with a 76. Neshaminy’s Greg DeLuca, Conestoga’s Morgan Lofland and Norristown’s Josh Ryan all finished tied for 11th at 77. Central Bucks South’s Kevin Anthony and Unionville’s Connor Bennick were tied at 78 while Holy Ghost Prep’s Liam Hart scratched out a 79.
* * *
PAC’d House >> It was a strong showing for the Pioneer Athletic Conference, as all five regional qualifiers advanced to states. Along with Pochet, Spina and Caleb Ryan, OJR’s McHenry and Norristown freshman Josh Ryan move on.
“I couldn’t have started out much worse — I bogeyed my first three holes,” said McHenry, “so I knew I didn’t have much room to work with after that. I birdied my fourth hole and was rolling from there.”
Fly Like An Eagle >> Norristown will join Warwick as the only two schools from the Eastern Regional Tournament to advance two players to states in the Ryan brothers. A pretty impressive feat, especially considering the Eagles put together a one-win regular season in PAC play this fall.
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