Playing its best when it counted most, the Central Catholic High School boys golf team on Monday asserted itself as one of the best in California.
Matthew Robinson, the team’s No. 1 golfer, shot an even-par 72 as the Raiders qualified for the state tournament with a second-place finish at the NCGA/CIF Northern California Boys Golf Championships at Sierra View Country Club.
Buoyed by a combined 2-under-par total on the 181-yard par-3 eighth hole – the team’s 17th of the day – the Raiders shot a 382 to finish two shots behind team champion Foothill-Pleasanton and two ahead of third-place Dublin.
The top three teams, along with the top nine individuals not on those teams, advance to the CIF/CGA State Championship on June 4 in San Gabriel.
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Central Catholic is the only Stanislaus District team to reach the boys state tournament, which dates to 2004, and the only one in recent memory to qualify for the NorCal.
“This is a big deal for a young team to finish strong,” Central assistant coach Jim Pecchenino said. “It’s a game of strokes at this level, and every stroke is critical. They stayed on it. I’m very proud of them.”
Playing against perennial powerhouses like defending state champ Stevenson-Pebble Beach, 2012 titlist Granite Bay and longtime NorCal powers Archbishop Mitty-San Jose and Foothill, the Raiders posted four scores in the 70s on the tightly-guarded 6,452-yard course.
Robinson, Trey Wesenberg (75), Chris Ebster (77), Michael Kelly (78) and Mac O’Brien (80) all had their moments. But none was more important than the work done on the eighth, where the Raiders posted two birdies on a hole that yielded just nine from the field of 89.
First, Robinson put his tee shot to the hole playing against the wind and guarded by a bunker to about three feet and drained his putt. Playing three groups behind, Wesenberg chipped in from just off the green to make 2.
The Raiders qualified for state by five shots against the two fourth-place finishers – Granite Bay and Campolindo-Moraga. However, they picked up vital strokes on both teams on the eighth and the par-4 ninth, where Central Catholic combined for a 1-over total on a hole that played the sixth-toughest of the day.
Ebster strung together three birdies on 14, 15 and 16, Kelley had two birdies and drained a 15-foot par putt on No. 9, and O’Brien had two birdies, including one of just five that were made on the 14th, the fourth-most difficult hole.
Next up? The chance to capture the state title at San Gabriel Country Club, the oldest 18-hole golf course in Southern California.
Central coach David Quintal said his team of three freshmen, a sophomore and two juniors is brimming with confidence. Groomed by a tough and competitive summer schedule, his players “knew” they had a chance to get to this level.
“They think this is the way it is,” he said. “They’re just having fun and firing scores.”
Johansen sophomore Daniel Pena, who won the Modesto Metro Conference and Sac-Joaquin Section Masters individual titles, fell short in his bid to reach state after a 9-over-par 81 that left him tied for 58th.