Matt Barto's high school career at Leechburg has been rewarding, but occasionally challenging. The WPIAL Class AA individual championship at Sewickley Heights Golf Club was another chapter in his story. Five times he hit his ball into fairway bunkers. He and his playing partners Max Kaminsky of Serra Catholic and Owen Miller were warned once for slow play by a WPIAL official after the seventh hole. His range finder was giving him fits during the round. And he was stung by a bee just below the neck when he was finishing the 15th hole.
As if that wasn't enough, his round of 3-over 75 earned him a berth in a playoff with Charleroi's Gunnar Riley.
Playoffs haven't been kind to Barto. This talented senior had been in seven playoffs before in tournaments other than the WPIAL championship, and he finished second all seven times.
"This is the first playoff I've ever won," said a relieved Barto after his 7-foot birdie putt on the first playoff hold earned him his second WPIAL Class AA title in a row. Riley missed a 10-foot par putt and settled for a bogey.
"I've gone into extra holes in match play and never won, and I've lost three holes in a sudden-death playoff," Barto said.
Barto became the ninth golfer in WPIAL history to win two individual championships, and the first since Mike Van Sickle of Pine-Richland won consecutive titles in 2003 and 2004.
Asked what he did differently to earn a birdie on the 398-yard par-4 10th, Barto said, "I have no idea."
He was able to improvise beautifully after his plan on the first playoff hole went awry.
Intending to hit to the right of three fairway bunkers that lined the right side of the 10th fairway, Barto hit one of his best tee shots of the day about 280 yards down the left side of the fairway.
"But I got so quick on my [drive], that I pulled it so bad and into the fairway," he said. "I wanted to hit it to the right of the bunkers because it would have been a better angle, and I wouldn't have to worry about the bunkers on the left."
He then used his 52-degree wedge to loft a 118-yard second shot to within 7 feet of the hole.
"That was a 50-yard pull followed by an incredible wedge shot," he said. "I couldn't have asked for anything better."
While Barto's approach was shaping up nicely, Riley hit his second shot into the rough behind the green and was forced to chip back onto the green. His 10-foot par attempt slid past the hole, and Barto had two attempts to win the title.
Barto and Riley will be joined by 14 other qualifiers at the PIAA West regional Oct. 16 at Tom's Run Golf Club in Blairsville.
Burgettstown's Cody Dobbin was third with a 77, while teammate Owen Miller and Sewickley Academy's Keenan Hickton tied for fourth with 78s.
First Published September 26, 2013 4:00 AM