East Xtra: Leechburg's Barto takes WPIAL golf title


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Winning one WPIAL Class AA championship would be a special moment for any district high school golfer, but when he takes home two titles, the feeling is indescribable.

That's pretty much Matt Barto's feeling these days as he tries to put this year's accomplishment achieved Sept. 25 at Sewickley Heights Golf Club behind him and looks ahead to the PIAA Western Regional Oct. 16 at Tom's Run Golf Course in Blairsville. Barto became the ninth golfer in WPIAL history to win multiple titles.

Tied with Charleroi Area's Gunnar Riley with scores of 75 following 18 regulation holes, Barto birdied the first playoff hole -- the par-3, 398-yard No. 10 hole -- while Riley put up a bogey to earn his second regional title in as many years.

This one was very special for Barto as it represented the first championship playoff he has won in eight attempts.

"I've gone into extra holes in match play, and I've never won," he said. "I've lost three holes in a sudden-death playoff, and I have no idea what I did today."

Barto knew enough, though, to select a 52-degree wedge as he stood 118 yards from the green after hitting a marvelous shot off the tee.

The decision was a great one as he lofted a shot within 7 feet of the hole. After Riley rolled his par attempt past the cup and then sank his bogey putt, Barto ended the drama by sinking his birdie putt.

"Making the birdie is such an exclamation point," he said.

Barto said he wasn't thinking much about defending the WPIAL title when he was playing at the youth tournaments that are contested on a weekly basis. But his mindset changed once the high school golf schedule was approaching.

"Golf is always business for me when I play [in junior events]," he said. "But when I get into high school season, it's all about the WPIAL and the individual stuff. It's all the same. I'm just trying to play the best that I can all the time. I don't do anything differently."

What he had no issue with, however, was his putting.

"My putter saved me so well," he said. "It was unbelievable."

His greatest save came on the par-4, 382-yard No. 8 hole where he found himself standing above the ball about 22 feet away from the hole and facing a tough, downhill putt that required a severe left to right break.

"It broke 6 feet from left to right, and that doesn't suit my eye at all," he said. "I'm right-handed, and I like right-to-left putts. If I would have missed the hole, it would have done the same thing that [Burgettstown's Owen Miller's] putt did."

Miller's birdie attempt slid past the hole, and he needed two more putts for a bogey. The two-stroke swing made a huge difference going into the ninth hole and onto the back nine.

Barto also had to deal with a bee sting that he incurred on the back of his neck as he was finishing the 15th hole, which he parred.

"It really hurt, and it was really itching when I was getting ready to hit," he said. "It was bothering me because there were other bees flying around, and I got paranoid about them, too. But I stepped up on 16 and made a good save. The [bee sting] didn't affect me as much as it could have. But I wasn't in a particularly good mood after that."

Serra player finishes strong

Nerves have a way of creeping into a golfer's performance, no matter how experienced he might be.

Serra Catholic senior Max Kaminsky had that painful experience as he placed sixth with a score of 79 at the WPIAL Class AA Boys Individual Championships Sept. 25 at Sewickley Heights Golf Club.

Kaminsky, a White Oak resident, started his day with bogeys on the first two holes, and he picked up a third bogey on the fifth hole.

Throughout the day, Kaminsky was hitting short of the green on many fairway approaches.

"There were some nerves, and I was lifting my head up sometimes," he said.

Another bogey on the seventh hole and a double-bogey on the ninth forged the way for a forgettable 43 on the front nine.

Had that trend continued on the back nine, then Kaminsky's hopes to advance to the PIAA Western Regional would have come to an inglorious end as no one moved beyond the WPIAL championship tournament with a round of 86.

No one knew that better than Kaminsky, who shot even-par 36 on the back nine, and will be traveling to Blairsville for the PIAA Class AA Western Regional Oct. 16.

"I'm so relieved that I shot in the 70s after that front nine," he said. "That's the first time I'd shot in the 40s all year [for nine holes]. On the back nine, I told myself that I had to start fresh."

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