Redwings Bring Longtime Coach 1st Title

June 11, 2016

By Chip Mundy
Special for Second Half

BATTLE CREEK – St. Johns made its longtime boys golf coach Paul Sternburgh look like a prophet Saturday afternoon.

Sternburgh, in his 36th season coaching the Redwings, had said his team would be as good as its third through fifth players played in the MHSAA Division 2 boys golf tournament at Bedford Valley Golf Course.

With solid play from all five, St. Johns broke 300 both Friday and Saturday and totaled 597 (298-299) to edge runner-up East Lansing (601) and third-place DeWitt (611). The Redwings came into the postseason ranked No. 3 in LP Division 2, and finished third at the Regional to No. 1 Ada Forest Hills Eastern and No. 2 Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central – which tied for fourth this weekend.

It is the first MHSAA Finals championship in boys golf for St. Johns, which should have everybody back next year as it played four juniors and a sophomore this weekend.

“If you look at the progression we made, I would have said getting here was our goal this year, and then maybe make the top five,” Sternburgh said. “Our top two guys did what they do. I told the guys that what our third, fourth and fifth guys do will make or break our season. They made it for sure.”

Led by Nate Brown, the team’s No. 5 player, those three combined for six rounds of 82 or better, including three that broke 80.

“Brown was just phenomenal,” Sternburgh said. “He shot 79-76, and he’s averaging about 83. He just stayed the course and kept it in play. He came through. Even our No. 4 guy shot 81-82, and his score didn’t count. That’s pretty good when you throw those scores out.”

Brown, a junior, had three birdies Saturday in his 2-over 76.

“I started out rough, but halfway through I just sort of settled in and it all went from there,” Brown said. “On the sixth hole – a par 3 – I hit my tee shot onto the front of the green, and I sank a 40-footer for a birdie, and after that, I think I was even through the next 12 holes.

“I knew we had a chance to win the state title, but it didn’t really sink in until we had the lead on the second day. What I did was unexpected, but I knew what I was capable of; I just hadn’t shown it all year.”

Brown said the key to his success was consistency.

“I probably hit 12 fairways with my driver both days,” he said. “My driver really came in handy, and I made a lot of putts. I had a good feeling coming into this weekend. We all did. I’m living the dream right now.”

The top two were solid as usual. Eric Nunn led the team with 69-70 for a 5-under 139 total, and Zach Rosendale added 71-73 for an even-par 144 total. Nunn lost in a playoff for the individual title with Devin Deogun of Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood.

Nunn had a great finish that landed him in a playoff for the individual title.

“I saw him on the course at one point, and he was two down,” Sternburgh said. “Then he said, ‘I’m going to tie this guy.’ After he made the turn, he told me, ‘Coach, I just flipped this guy. I’m two up.’ Then he birdied the last two holes.”

The playoff began on the par-5, 508-yard 16th hole. After a subpar tee shot, Nunn landed his third shot on the fringe of the green, while Deogun was in a bunker just short of the green with his second shot.

“My bunker game is pretty good, so I looked at it like just any other bunker shot,” Deogun said. “I was in the same bunker earlier, so I felt like I had some recollection of what I could do. I was a little bit farther in the bunker, but it was still a similar shot.”

Deogun, who shot 69-70 for a 5-under 139 total, landed his bunker shot about 3 feet from the pin. Nunn three-putted from the fringe for bogey, and Deogun sank his birdie putt for the championship.

“When he missed, I felt I could have just tapped it in there,” said Deogun, a junior who has committed to Michigan State University. “My length is really beneficial for me. I can take advantage of a lot of short par 4s and par 5s, and I’ve worked on my short game a lot with my coach, and it paid off.”

For Nunn, the disappointment of losing in the playoff did nothing to blemish his joy in winning the team title. He had the biggest smile of everyone as they gathered to accept the championship trophy.

“I was really happy after we won, and then I said I have more work to do,” he said. “Unfortunately I lost, but congrats to Devin, great playing. It is what it is. I didn’t hit the best shot off the tee, and I didn’t hit the best shot out of the bunker, but I’m still really happy.

“It feels great. I’m so proud of our guys. We’ve worked really hard for this. It’s been a long time coming for Coach Sternburgh, he’s been in it for 36 years, and we’re glad we finally got him one.”

Rosendale, who made the MHSAA Finals as an individual two years ago, is half of the solid one-two punch at the top of the St. Johns lineup. Nunn competed last year as an individual, and the two team leaders shared some advice with their teammates prior to the tournament.

“We’ve been here, so we know how to handle the pressure, and we just told them to drink water and stay hydrated, take deep breaths and just treat this like any other tournament,” Rosendale said. “Our five man came up clutch.”

Juniors Brown and Jack Bouck and sophomore Zeke Ely had never played in the MHSAA Finals prior to this year. It appears the advice was taken.

“We were a little nervous coming in, so we met on the first day and said there is nothing to be nervous about,” Bouck said. “If we played our game, our scores would show it, and after the first tee, I just started playing golf, and we got it done.”

The lack of big-tournament experience for the third through fifth players was a concern to Sternburgh.

“Eric and Zach had played a lot of high-level tournaments, so I wasn’t concerned about him,” he said. “Nate almost couldn’t talk, he was so nervous. I was nursing the last few guys along. You always have to be part counselor. If they made a bad shot, they’re pouting, and you have to lift them back up again.”

Ely, the lone sophomore, shot 81-82 for a 163 total. Although his scores were not needed because of the overall team depth, they provided great insurance in case one of the other players faltered.

“We were fully confident in our abilities, and we knew we had a chance coming in,” he said. “We just needed to put two good scores together.”

Rosendale said he was pleased to be a part of the team that delivered the first Finals championship to Coach Sternburgh.

“I’m really proud of our coach and excited for him, and we finally got him one,” Rosendale said.

Sternburgh, a retired middle school English teacher, said after that next year will be his final year as the St. Johns boys golf coach.

“I’m going to retire with these guys,” he said. “This hasn’t sunk in yet, just the reality of it. It is amazing because this is such an amazing group of young men to be with. They have been with me through some really tough times. I lost my wife two years ago, and they were just great through it all.

“It’s kind of like the cherry on the top, like you are building an ice-cream float. This is the cherry. This is all the years of really, really amazing golfers and young men who have come through the program.

“For me, doing it this long, the wins and losses aren’t as important as the relationships that we have formed. But to get our banner up in the gym, and our names will be up there, and that will be very special.”

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PHOTO: (Top) St. Johns' Zeke Ely watches a shot during Saturday's second round at Bedford Valley. (Middle) Eric Nunn putts on the way to helping the Redwings to the Division 2 title. (Click to see more from

Pinili Aiming to Add Medalist Honor as Brother Rice Seeks Finals 3-Peat

By Keith Dunlap
Special for

June 8, 2023

The phrase the “third time is a charm” might often be trite and overplayed, but it also couldn’t apply more to Bloomfield Hills Brother Rice senior golfer Lorenzo Pinili.

Greater DetroitTwo years ago as a sophomore, Pinili finished as the individual runner-up at the Lower Peninsula Division 2 Final, five shots out of first at Bedford Valley in Battle Creek.

Last year, Pinili was the runner-up again at Grand Valley State, valiantly rallying from an opening-round score of 76 to shoot a 68 on the second day at The Meadows, but still ending six shots behind.

Both years, Brother Rice won the team title, so Pinili still left happy.

But no doubt, he hopes the third time will be the charm from an individual point of view when he competes at this weekend’s Division 2 Final at The Fortress in Frankenmuth.

“This year, I definitely have a lot more motivation to finish first,” he said. “It’s a lot of patience. That’s what it is. I just have to trust my game and not really force anything. That’s what most people try to do. If they know they want to get a win or know they want to play well, they’re going to start forcing shots that’s out of their comfort zone or do stuff they don’t really do.”

Pinili, who will play collegiately at Michigan State, has been hitting a lot of good shots throughout a golfing life that started when he was 2 years old. 

In fact, while Pinili has no recollection of the moment he took up the game, his father Rommel has reminded him constantly throughout his life.

“He said that I picked up a stick while the TV was on and I tried to copy what was on TV,” Pinili said. “From there, he gave me a plastic club, and he gave me real balls. He thought I was making good contact. From there, he gave me real metal clubs, and I was able to hit balls. There’s actually a video on YouTube that you can find of me hitting golf balls at the range when I was 2. From there, it’s been with me my whole entire life.”

Pinili said if there’s one area of his game that has evolved more than any other since he began high school, it’s performing when the stakes are the highest.

The Warriors celebrate their second-straight team title, including Pinili (standing, third from left) and his younger brother Leandro (standing, fourth from right

Brother Rice associate coach David Sass echoed those sentiments about Pinili’s enhanced ability to stay even-keeled mentally under pressure.

“He has a tendency to have such a high level of expectation for his game, that can kind of prohibit him from looking beyond a simple mistake,” he said. “He’s been really good about doing that lately. Golf is very hard, and it’s really about managing your mistakes. Perfection is basically unattainable in golf. If he stays patient, understands that, picks his spots on when to be aggressive, is aggressive in that moment, and then plays it smart during moments he shouldn’t be aggressive, I think he’s got an incredible chance to win this thing.”

One of the biggest competitors for Pinili this weekend could be someone in the same household.

Leandro Pinili, a sophomore, finished in a tie for ninth last year at the LPD2 Tournament, and definitely helps push Lorenzo to greater heights in the game.

“We share a lot of passion with the game together, and sometimes it gets a little too competitive just because he wants to beat me and I can’t let him beat me,” Lorenzo said. “It’s really nice having someone besides me who understands the side of golf that I understand. It’s also really fun being able to play with my brother and compete with him. I really love it, and that’s one of the biggest things I’m going to miss about Brother Rice golf.”

And no doubt, Brother Rice will definitely miss Lorenzo Pinili when he finishes his high school career on Saturday at a course he is looking forward to playing because it will require precise shots.

“I think it will separate the best from the rest of the pack,” he said. “You really can’t get away with anything out there.”

Keith DunlapKeith Dunlap has served in Detroit-area sports media for more than two decades, including as a sportswriter at the Oakland Press from 2001-16 primarily covering high school sports but also college and professional teams. His bylines also have appeared in USA Today, the Washington Post, the Detroit Free Press, the Houston Chronicle and the Boston Globe. He served as the administrator for the Oakland Activities Association’s website from 2017-2020. Contact him at [email protected] with story ideas for Oakland, Macomb and Wayne counties

PHOTOS (Top) Brother Rice's Lorenzo Pinili, right, tees off during the 2022 LP Division 1 Finals as Grand Rapids Christian's Adam Workman follows his shot. (Middle) The Warriors celebrate their second-straight team title, including Pinili (standing, third from left) and his younger brother Leandro (standing, fourth from right). Click for more from High School Sports Scene.)