Keenan Hickton has had a solid season as Sewickley Academy's No. 1 golfer.
So his disappointment after shooting a 6-over-par round of 78 Sept. 25 at the WPIAL Class AA championship at Sewickley Heights Golf Club was understandable.
"I feel I didn't bring my best stuff," said Hickton, a senior from Thornburg, as he reflected on his fourth-place finish, three strokes behind the totals posted by Leechburg's Matt Barto and Charleroi Area's Gunnar Riley.
Barto defeated Riley with a first-hole birdie in the playoff to earn his second consecutive WPIAL Class AA championship.
"At the end of the day, though, I'm happy because I am moving on," Hickton said.
Yes, he's moving on to the PIAA Class AA Western Regional that takes place Oct. 16 at Tom's Run Golf Course in Blairsville.
"This was the WPIAL championship, but this does serve as the qualifier for the Western Regional, so I'm excited about the opportunity to move on. I'm glad I was able to grind it out and keep [my score] under 80."
He'll have company on the trip to Blairsville. Teammate Anthony Muscato, a junior, placed ninth with an 80, and fellow Sewickley senior Sam Duerr finished 13th with a round of 81.
Hickton wants to do well in the individual aspect of state tournament play, but there is still some unfinished WPIAL business as he and his teammates hope to dethrone defending champion Burgettstown Area later this month in the WPIAL Class AA team championship tournament.
He cautions, however, in focusing attention on just the Blue Devils.
"I hear there's a bunch of good teams this year," he said. "Laurel had a couple of good kids [at the individual championships], and Kittanning had a couple of kids here. I think it's going to be a deeper field than last year.
"But Burgettstown is the defending champion, and you can't take anything away from them. It's going to be exciting this year because there's a lot of teams that can play better, and it's going to take our best stuff."
At the individual championship, Hickton thought his ability to stay focused when things weren't at their best was his biggest asset.
"It was just a grind," he said. "I was able to salvage some good scores. But I just didn't hit the ball well enough to shoot anything better than how I played."
Other area qualifiers
Two juniors from other North Xtra area schools will get a taste of PIAA Class AA golf competition later this month.
Both Alex Tanabe from Quaker Valley and Eden Christian's Carter Ehms qualified by placing 14th and 15th, respectively.
Tanabe's route was a bit easier as he placed 14th with a 9-over-par round of 81.
Ehms, though, was locked in a five-way tie with a round of 84 with two spots available. Ehms and Charleroi's Mike Kondratik secured the last two spots with Ehms finishing 15th and Kondratik 16th.
For Ehms, it was a breakthrough. A year ago, he finished two strokes away from a berth in the PIAA Western Regional after finishing 21st in the WPIAL championship with a round of 85.
This performance was more satisfying in that 18 golfers qualified for the Western Regional. This year's cutoff came after 16 golfers.