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Gianelos leads Unionville to team golf state championship

As players milled about on the putting green Wednesday morning at Heritage Hills Golf Club in York, the whispers were out there.

There were two clear favorites heading into Wednesday’s PIAA Class 3A Team Golf Championships, and neither of them was from southern Chester County.

“On the putting green, it seemed like everyone thought it was going to be either Central York or Central Catholic,” said Unionville senior Jake McCloskey. “But we knew if we played decent, we would have a good chance of winning.”

The five Indians played better than decent Wednesday, as Unionville came home from York with a state championship, holding off both favorites and three other schools to bring home the title.

In a format where each team would throw out its worst score, all five players — McCloskey, Richie Kline, Connor Bennink, Will Bennink and Nick Gianelos — played lights-out golf Wednesday. Gianelos led the way with an even-par 72, followed by Connor Bennink (73), Kline (74) and McCloskey (74). Even Will Bennink’s tossed-out tally was an impressive 6-over score of 77.

“Coming into the day we expected to win because we know we can compete with any team in the state,” said Gianelos, a senior. “We kind of use a Tiger Woods mentality of ‘Why play a tournament if you don’t expect to win?’”

Unionville’s total score of 292 was followed by Central York (296), Central Catholic (305), Erie Cathedral Prep (305), La Salle (310) and Crestwood (314).

Gianelos started on No. 4 in the shotgun format, and proceeded to have a topsy-turvy start, posting four birdies and four bogeys over his first 11 holes.

But after notching a part on the par 3 15th, Gianelos turned it on. He birdied the short par 4 16th, parred 17 and 18, and rolled in back-to-back birdies on Nos. 1 and 2 (his 16th and 17th holes of the day).

“Those were huge birdies,” Gianelos said. “I knew the score was close then.”

Unionville players said they had a pretty good idea where things stood down the stretch. But even after everyone finished up, there was a lull before scores became official.

“I think after nine holes, we knew we were up by like four shots,” McCloskey said. “And we all knew we just needed to start making pars to clinch.”

The wait around the clubhouse was agonizing for the Indians.

“We did the math ourselves and knew we unofficially won,” said Will Bennink. “We didn’t want to get our hopes up until it was official.”

With 115 golfers on the course (60 boys and 55 girls) split between Class 3A and Class 2A, the walk was a bit tedious for everyone Wednesday. Especially with the pressure of knowing everyone was chasing you.

“I felt the key to the course today was keeping your drives in play and staying below the hole,” McCloskey said. “But also having a good mental game to stay sharp for a six-hour round.”

Connor Bennink, who was making his third trek around Heritage Hills in three days as the only Unionville player to qualify for the two-day individual event (he finished in a tie for fifth), started on the first hole and opened his round with four pars before a birdie on the par 3 fifth. That birdie was wiped out by a bogey on No. 8, followed by another bogey on No. 9 that made Bennink wonder where his round was headed.

But that changed real fast on the par 4 10th.

“I made a long birdie putt on 10 that really got me going to start the back nine after back to back bogeys,” said Bennink, who followed that birdie with another at the par 5 11th.

Of the five Unionville players who teed off on Wednesday, only McCloskey and Gianelos are seniors. So, there’s a good chance the Indians will be a contender next year, and won’t be able to sneak up on the field.

“I think today was a perfect example of the fact that skill doesn’t always win tournaments,” McCloskey said. “Sometimes, whoever wants it the most wins. And we wanted this really bad.”

NOTES >> The win capped a title-filled year for Unionville, which went undefeated in team matches, won the Ches-Mont League Tournament and District 1 team title. … Sewickley Academy (District 7) swept the boys and girls Class 2A titles. The boys posted a score of 311, while the girls scored 244 (only three players’ scores are counted on the girls side). North Allegheny (District 7) won the girls Class 3A crown (240).

TEAM RESULTS
Heritage Hills Golf Resort (Par 71)
Boys >> Class 3A
1. UNIONVILLE, 292
(Gianelos 71, C.Bennink 73, J.McCloskey 74, R.Kline 74)
2. Central York, 296
3. Central Catholic, 305
T3. Cathedral Prep, 305
5. La Salle, 310
6. Crestwood, 314

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