HS GOLF: Abington Heights, Prep Favored To Win Divisions
The season started with a great individual showdown between Wallenpaupack’s Alex Pillar and Abington Heights’ Troy Kelleher.
Question is, will the rest of the season, which begins Monday, live up to the drama of Thursday’s Irving Jackman Memorial tournament?
In the Big School division, it’s hard to imagine that anyone could keep pace with Abington Heights in the regular season, and the Comets last year finally ended Wallenpaupack’s spell to win a Lackawanna League title.
But those same playoffs showed, once again, there are few guarantees in golf.
Scranton Prep breezed through a second straight undefeated Small School season only to have Dunmore take it to a sudden-death playoff after their 18-hole final before the Cavaliers emerged victorious, their most treacherous step en route to a second-place finish in the state in Class 2A.
Those teams come into this year as the favorites to win their respective divisions, but history says it might not be that easy.
Abington Heights has all six starters back, including Troy Kelleher, Connor Kelleher and Will Brown, all first-team, coaches all-star picks a year ago. Wallenpaupack, Honesdale and North Pocono all have not only skill at the top of the lineup, hopwever, big home-course advantages in the home-and-home schedule, and Valley View has five starters back, too.
“We don’t want to raise the bar too high with this young talent that is coming in throughout the league,” Abington Heights coach Frank Summa said. “Especially with North Pocono, and Honesdale will be back with another full team. You can never count them out because golf, like we know, it’s not every day that you can shoot that low score.
“Yeah, they can be beat, but having a team with experience like this is a bonus.”
Six players shooting between 68 and 78 at the Jackman shows how tough it will be to knock off the Comets.
“Abington Heights is considerably the favorite,” Wallenpaupack coach Bob Simons said. “But the other four teams, like North Pocono, ’Paupack, Honesdale and Valley View, they’re all going to be fun matches. And whoever can win those away matches will assure themselves of making the playoffs. And that’s our goal, to make the playoffs and everything else is gravy.
“When it comes to the final, anything can happen. People can hit the ball out of bounds, people can do this, people can do that. It will be fun.”
Pillar, the Jackman champ after a 5-under 67, is a two-time All-Region performer and the 2016 Player of the Year, and is joined by fellow seniors and returning starters Jack Mowatt and Nick Hamer in trying to get the Buckhorns back to the title match for the fourth straight year.
Honesdale’s hopes will fall heavily on the shoulders of Luke Flederbach and Ben Williams, each of whom was a second-team all-star last season, and Cole Bannan.
“Luke, Ben and Cole can all go low,” Honesdale coach Mike Miller said. “We have a lot of talent. We need to keep working and keep improving.”
North Pocono will play its home matches this year on the front nine of Elmhurst Country Club, a huge edge with many of its players already members there, including Billy Pabst Jr., an impressive freshman who was fifth in the Lackawanna County Amateur and tied Connor Kelleher for third at last week’s Jackman.
Sophomore Jake Millan gives the team a nice one-two lift, with Millan a second-team all-star as a freshman.
Valley View’s Dom Verrastro was also a second-team all-star, and junior Franco Pazzaglia tied for ninth in last year’s District 2 Class 3A championship.
West Scranton’s Steve Tabone is also a returning second-team all-star.
Scranton Prep coach Ed Cimoch showed his prognosticating skills a year ago when he said that Dunmore could give his team trouble.
It took extra holes to dispatch the Bucks.
He hopes this year’s team learned a valuable lesson.
“It’s no longer Prep shows up and wins,” Cimoch said. “They know it now. The great thing is we have a young team and they are more aware of it. The team last year, they played for two years, no one beat them, no one was close to them. They might have gotten a little overconfident and gone into that final match and had their eyes opened.
“This year, we have a young team with a lot of pressure in matches of kids just trying to make the team. They are well aware if they don’t perform, they are going to be sitting and someone else is going to be taking their place. There is more internal pressure which hopefully makes them play better and gets them ready for tougher matches.”
Senior Collin Ennis and junior M.J. Stivala will be called upon to provide leadership for a team that projects two freshmen in the starting lineup. But Scranton Prep’s depth is something challengers Carbondale Area and Dunmore will need to overcome.
“We have three solid players, Colin Virkitis, Ian Fedorchak and Marino DePalma,” Carbondale Area coach Bob Salitsky said. “That’s something different this year.”
In the search for five points per match, six individual matches and three better-ball, that can be enough, especially if the rest of the Chargers develop the way Fedorchak, a returning first-team all-star, has.
“He’s got soft touch around the greens,” Salitsky said. “He’s not overly long, but he’s one of the best kids I’ve seen around the greens.”
Virkitis is also a second-team all-star from last season.
The meat of Carbondale Area’s schedule comes late in the season, with a home match against Dunmore on Sept. 10, and a road match at Scranton Prep on Sept. 13.
“It’ll all probably match up with them in the end, but we could lose a lot of these different places on the road in our division,” Salitsky said. “You could be beaten by anybody on any given day. You have to stay focused.”
Dunmore coach Tony Lacertoso is trying to replace four starters from last year’s squad, but hopes Owen Haggerty and Frank Ruggiero, the two full-time players who do return, can pass along some of the experiences from a year ago to less experienced members of the squad.
“We lost a lot of good players,” Lacertoso said. “Prep is always going to be the frontrunner and Carbondale was a real tight match for us last year. Hopefully, we can be competitive with those two teams.
“I think the two younger guys, Owen Haggerty and Frank Ruggiero, they were only a sophomore and a freshman last year. I think they got a lot of experience playing, especially against Prep a few times. We gave Prep a run for the money last year and hopefully their experience is going to rub off on the younger players.”
No other team has the horses to threaten Scranton Prep, but Elk Lake’s Jason Mowry is one of the top returning individuals, a first-team all-star pick as a freshman.
Lakeland’s Evan Tremback and Montrose’s Riley Brown were both named to the coaches’ second team.
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