For the better part of the past two seasons, Keenan Hickton's steady and talented approach has guided the Sewickley Academy boys golf team to some memorable victories.
At last week's WPIAL Class AA boys team golf championships at Cedarbrook Golf Course in Rostraver, Hickton, a senior from Thornburg, had yet another solid day with a 2-over-par round of 74. As the scores from his teammates came in, though, the Panthers knew they would have to get another solid score if a victory against defending champion Burgettstown would be feasible.
They got more than they bargained for as Jason Li, a freshman from Cranberry, fired a 5-over-par round of 77 to help lift the Panthers to a team score of 398 and a 10-stroke victory against the Blue Devils.
The victory vaulted the Panthers into the field for the PIAA team championship, which will be played next Wednesday at Heritage Hills Resort in York.
"It's phenomenal," Sewickley Academy coach Win Palmer said. "We have brought freshmen out here over the years, but none of them has ever broken 85. It's very difficult for a freshman to play well in this situation -- tough golf course and the [championship] environment. I can't tell you how pleased I am for [Li] and how excited I am for him."
Even more remarkable is that Li's solid play began when the Panthers began the postseason portion of the season.
"He's our number four player," Palmer said. "He shot 75 in the semifinals, and he's on a roll. Nine-hole wise, he was our No. 6 scorer. But tournament-wise, he's our No. 3 scorer for 18 holes."
Li said his success at the team championship began on his first hole, which was the par-5, 554-yard No. 10 hole on Cedarbrook's Gold Course.
"I got off to a good start with a good hole on No. 10," he said. "I started rolling with a good par with a good chip, and then I got another par on 11 and kept rolling with pars. I got seven pars in a row, including the two long par-fours [holes 15 and 16], which boosted my confidence. I just used that momentum through the round."
The knowledge that he is going to the state championship with Hickton and his teammates is starting to sink in for Li, who had a different idea as to how his season would play out.
"It's amazing actually," he said. "I came into this year thinking that maybe I'd be an alternate, at best for our [varsity] team. To be playing varsity and going to a state championship, I can't think of anything else that would be better than that right now."
He and his teammates will be getting information about Heritage Hills from Hickton, who has played there previously. Additional knowledge could be gained if two teammates -- senior Sam Duerr and junior Anthony Muscato -- qualified with Hickton for the individual finals at the PIAA Western Regional, which took place Wednesday at Tom's Run Golf Course in Blairsville.
"If all three of our guys advance individually, it would be fantastic," Palmer said. "Keenan knows the course very well, so I'm not worried about him. We want Sam and Anthony to do as well as they can.
"Keenan has been talking to his teammates the whole year. The kids listen to him, and he understands the strategy of the game. He's very calm. He understands each of the guys and how they play and he helps them play to their strengths."hsother
First Published October 16, 2013 8:00 PM