A year ago as a Johansen High freshman, Daniel Pena stood 5 feet, 6 inches tall and weighed 125 pounds.
One year later, Pena checks in at 6 feet, 160, and his drives even sound big.
“You don’t hit it too long, do you, Daniel?” cracked Modesto playing partner Carter Dewing after another missile-launch by Pena on the 16th tee.
“220, tops,” Pena answered.
Don’t believe him. He sends it high and deep, and the rest of the Modesto Metro Conference can only watch and admire one lethal growth spurt.
Pena, shortening Creekside to a bunch of wedges and short-iron approaches, notched a 4-under-par 68 Thursday as the Vikings dominated the MMC Championship. Teammate Grant Plunkett provided a 1-2 punch with his 2-under 70 to cap Johansen’s march to its sixth league title in the last seven years.
Better still, the Vikings blitzed the MMC field with its 370, smashing a 10-year-old school record by 14 shots. Gregori, the runner-up both during the season and on tournament day, trailed by a distant 30 strokes.
It all started with Pena, who’s picked up at least 60 yards off the tee over the past year. He bounced one within about 20 yards of a greenside bunker at the 347-yard 11th.
“Since I was hitting it a little better than normal today, I tried to get more aggressive,” Pena said. “I’m not afraid to make birdies.”
Point made. He penciled seven birdies onto his scoreboard and began his round with three in a row at the 18th, first and second. By the time he drained a 60-footer for deuce at the eighth, he already had created room between himself and his opponents.
Even three bogeys on his back nine couldn’t derail Pena. He’s worked hard on controlling his emotions, not an uncommon issue at the prep level, and he played through a pair of 3-putts and other minor setbacks.
“He (Pena) was our team MVP last year. For him to elevate his play, it’s kind of nice to have that horse you can rely on,” Johansen coach Dan Boer said.
Johansen, featuring an all-senior lineup other than Pena, is motivated by a bittersweeet postseason in 2013. Enochs upset the Vikings at last year’s MMCs, but Johansen then tied with St. Mary’s for the title at the Sac-Joaquin Section Division 1 South at Creekside. Alas, rules called for a tie-break via the comparing of scorecards rather than a playoff and Johansen finished second.
The Vikings, unbeaten in MMC duals this spring, have pointed toward the playoffs. Kyle Azlin inspired his teammates with a season-best 75, followed by Dylan Osborne’s 77 and Julian Salazar’s 80. The Vikings tossed an 83 by Phillip Killough, who took up golf only two months ago.
“Last year was tough. This was a good way to get some momentum,” said Plunkett, who hit 16 greens in regulation and recorded four birdies. “Every score we counted at Section last year is back.”
The MMCs were moved up 11 days from its scheduled date so the teams wouldn’t tee it up at the Divisional right after the spring holiday. Bumpy greens at Creekside – its greens were punched last week – resulted in some airborne putts, but there was hardly any wind. Conditions begged for low scoring.
Johansen and Gregori, the latter anchored by a 75 by sophomore Greg Jalli, advanced to the Divisional. The third-place berth, however, required a little drama.
A points system, compiled from the league season and the tournament, is used to decide the Divisional qualifiers other than the champion. Modesto drew even with Enochs by beating the Eagles at Creekside, and the two teams walked to the first tee for a one-hole playoff. The Panthers shot even par to edge Enochs by a stroke as the teams gathered around the first green.
Only then were the individual qualifiers decided: Beyer senior Matt Mensinger, the 2013 Divisional medalist (75); Enochs’ Timothy Yang (78); Beyer’s Chinmay Joshi (81); Enochs’ Austin Haverdink (81) and Brandon Kommavong (81); and Downey’s Hunter Jones (89).
They’ll have time to prepare for the D-1 South on Monday, May 5, at Elkhorn in Stockton.