1st-Day Leader Hackett Finishes Title Run

June 8, 2019

By Dean Holzwarth
Special for Second Half

ALLENDALE – Aiden Gillig didn’t want to leave Kalamazoo Hackett Catholic Prep without accomplishing a goal that had eluded him in previous tries.

Gillig’s soccer teams had fallen short twice in pursuit of Division 4 titles, but it turns out a smaller white ball did just the trick.

Hackett won its first MHSAA Finals since 2013 on Saturday, shooting the second round of a two-day 652 that bested runner-up Grosse Pointe Woods University Liggett by 11 strokes at The Meadows at Grand Valley State.

“This is my first state title, and I’ve been chasing one for the last four years,” said Gillig, the lone senior on Hackett’s team. “It’s been tough to get runner-up twice for soccer, so this means a lot to get this one.

“I thought we came in underrated, and we showed the state we were the best team. And these young guys have the potential to win two more, and hopefully they do.”

The Irish had a pair of golfers finish among the top 10. Junior Will Verduzco tied for fifth with a 156, and sophomore Tommy Keyte was seventh at 157.

Also contributing were sophomores Ryan Chafty (162) and Ben Bridenstine (177).

“We’ve been there all year, and we have three guys that can shoot in the 70s and Aidan and Ben are in the low 80s,” Verduzco said. “That’s what you need to compete in this tournament, and this is something we’ve thought about all year and worked toward.

“I think some people didn’t see it coming, outside of the team, but it feels good to get it done.”

Last season’s Division 4 champion NorthPointe Christian moved to Division 3 this spring. But Hackett, after coming in fourth in 2018, returned its top four players from last season and won its Regional two weeks ago by a whopping 45 strokes.

“I think they knew a little more of what to do this year, and it was definitely an advantage for them to play in the Finals last year,” Irish coach Jim Holton said. “The Meadows is a tough course, and you have to keep it out of the tall grass. We played pretty good yesterday, and I’m pretty happy overall with how they played. It was a total team effort today.”

The Irish led by 14 strokes entering the final round after a first-day total of 323. Leland, Clarkston Everest Collegiate and Grosse Pointe Woods University Liggett all were tied for second at 337 after the first round.  

“This is a tough course to come from behind,” Holton said. “As long as we played smart and didn’t give up strokes, I knew it would be tough for a team to come from behind.”

Clarkston Everest Collegiate senior Mitch Lowney, meanwhile, captured the individual title by shooting a 147 to win by a single stroke over two other players.

Lowney outlasted Clinton’s Austin Fauser and Mount Pleasant Sacred Heart’s Michael Zanoni. They both shot 148.

“Being a senior, I wanted to end on a good note,” Lowney said. “Obviously, I wanted the team win, but a goal of mine was to win the individual state title and I knew I could do it. It was pretty intense out there at the end.”

Lowney carded a first-day 73 and then followed it up with a 2-over-par 74. He finished his round with eight consecutive pars.

“I played very smart,” Lowney said. “I hit driver a total of two times over the past two days, and I just played this course smart. I took my medicine when I did and played good overall.”

Ironically, Lowney placed runner-up to Fauser as a sophomore. Lowney was fifth a year ago.

“I’ve been in the mix a lot, and it feels good to actually get one,” Lowney said.

The Knights, which recorded their best Finals’ finish since 2015, posted the lowest team total of Saturday (326).

“For very difficult conditions and a tough course, we played great,” Liggett coach Dan Sullivan said. “They had the best round of the day, and we made up some ground on the first-place team by three strokes so I was very proud of them for that. And my three players that carried me at the end were two freshmen and a sophomore.”

Junior Colin Degnore fired a final-round 76 for the Knights and finished tied for eighth at 157.

Sullivan said he believed Hackett was the team to beat.

“I thought Hackett was the best team in the state when I looked at scores of various tournaments,” he said. “I thought they were head-and-shoulders above everybody else, and they would have to have a rough tournament for anyone else to have a chance. I thought we would be fighting with those other teams for second place.”

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PHOTOS: (Top) Hackett’s Will Verduzco watches one of his shots during Saturday’s second-round play at The Meadows. (Middle) Clarkston Everest Collegiate’s Mitch Lowney hits an approach during his run to the individual championship. (Click to see more from HighSchoolSportsScene.com.)

St. Francis Turns Slight Friday Lead Into Memorable Championship Sweep

June 8, 2024

BIG RAPIDS – Traverse City St. Francis freshman Casey Jackson assigned some of the credit for his teammates’ Lower Peninsula Division 3 championship success this weekend to their matching bucket hats, which proved a key accessory during Saturday’s drizzly second round at Katke Golf Course.

But the Gladiators’ first Finals championship since 2008 was more a product of scores falling along with the raindrops.

They improved from 14th a year ago to first this weekend by building a three-stroke lead on Jackson Lumen Christi during Friday’s first round and extending it to an 18-stroke victory by the end of Saturday, finishing with a two-day 640 as the Titans finished at 658 and Grand Rapids West Catholic and Grand Rapids Covenant Christian tied for third at 668.

St. Francis carded a 328 on Friday but cut that to 312 during the second round, in part on the surge of junior David Ansley. He shot an 80 on Friday to tie for seventh individually, but came back Saturday with a 72 to set up a tie-breaker for medalist with Elk Rapids sophomore Baron Vollmer – and clinched it by dropping what he estimated to be a 20-foot putt.

All told, four of five Gladiators cut strokes from their first to second rounds. Freshman Casey Jackson dropped a stroke to tie for ninth at 80-79-159, and junior Josh Slocum carded 85-77-162 to tie for 16th individually. Sophomore William Gibbons also cut two strokes to finish at 88-86-174, and senior Owen Jackson remained consistently solid at 83-84-167.

“I’ve grown up with these guys for years now, and it just feels so surreal because we did what we wanted to do this season,” Jackson said. “It feels like our chemistry is so good together, and we worked for this so hard.”

The Gladiators put plenty of distance between themselves and the field, with their Saturday score made more impressive by the fact only Lumen Christi (327) and Tawas (329) joined St. Francis in breaking 330 – not only for the second round, but the entire weekend.

Elk Rapids’ Baron Vollmer sends his ball out of the sand. “That was our job today, go out and try to put a little pressure,” St. Francis coach Jim Hornyak said. “We only had a two-stroke lead and wanted to put some pressure and make the other teams have to come and get us, and hopefully cause some issues.

“(My team) just played awesome today.”

That was finished off by Ansley, who thought he had a good chance to climb the individual standings after shooting 80 on Friday, but probably not enough to win it all.

At the end, Ansley sank the long putt to finish the St. Francis championship sweep.

“That last putt, I didn’t expect it to go in. I just hit it as hard as I could almost and hoped that it went in,” he said. “I was like, I already won a team championship, I have nothing to lose. So I was like whatever, let’s just hit it and hope it goes in.”

The top 11 individuals all finished within seven strokes of the lead. Millington junior Brad Coleman finished third, just two strokes back.

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PHOTOS (Top) Traverse City St. Francis’ David Ansley putts during Saturday’s second round at Katke Golf Club. (Middle) Elk Rapids’ Baron Vollmer sends his ball out of the sand. (Click for more from High School Sports Scene.)