After at third-place finish in the NJSIAA North Group IV sectionals earlier this week, denying them a bid to next week’s Tournament of Champions, it was unclear to Hunterdon Central High School boys golf coach Larry Ries as to how his team would respond in Wednesday’s Skyland Conference Tournament at Royce Brook Golf Club.
With a tournament-winning cumulative score of 305, it seems as if Ries had nothing to worry about after all. It was the second consecutive Skyland tourney victory for Central, a perennial state powerhouse that has yet to lose a match this year.
“We didn’t play well Monday, and for the kids to come back today, I was impressed,” Ries said. “I didn’t know what would happen to them, but shooting 305 and having four guys shoot in the 70s, that’s impressive. I’m real happy about it and I’m happy for them, too. They wanted to come back today, and they did.”
Central finished nine strokes better than Ridge, whose foursome combined for a 314. Phillipsburg, North Hunterdon, and Montgomery rounded out the top five.
Sophomore James Wolfangel led the way for the Red Devils with a 74. Senior captain Eric Mastrull shot a 76, while sophomore Dylan Stein and junior Keith Noonan contributed with a 77 and 78, respectively. All four marks were low enough to crack the Delaware Division’s Top-10.
Eighteen holes were not enough to determine the individual champion, as senior Luke Graboyes of Watchung Hills and junior Dan O’Rourke of Delaware Valley each shot a one-under 71. Graboyes prevailed in the one-hole playoff, however, recording a par while O’Rourke bogied.
Both Mastrull and Wolfangel raved about the West course’s conditions, citing the top-notch shape of the greens and fairways.
“The rough played thick, so it definitely put a precedent on hitting good shots, off the tee especially,” said Mastrull, who also serves as team captain. “There’s plenty of room, but if you’re not hitting fairways you’re in trouble. I hit at least 8 bunker shots today.”
Should Central win its last divisional meeting against Hillsborough, it will be the program’s first undefeated campaign since 1999.
Ries, no stranger to winning, has coached for over 30 years and won his 500th match earlier this season. In 2011, he was named the National Federation of State High School Coaches Association Boys Golf Coach of the Year.
He wishes his team would have had more success in the sectionals, which serves as the qualifier for the state championship, but is pleased with the results nonetheless.
“It’s a good year,” Ries acknowledged. “We won our division, we won this (tournament), and we won the Hunterdon/Warren/Sussex tournament.”