St. Charles North boys golf coach Rob Prentiss jokingly says he wants to be like North Stars' junior Raghav Cherala when he grows up.
Cherala sure did play some grown-up golf at The Highlands of Elgin Tuesday.
While much of the 9-team field at the Class 3A Larkin regional struggled on the back 9, Cherala bounced from a 40 frontside with a sizzling 33 on the back., His 1-over par 73 catapulted the North Stars to their first regional championship since 2002 and sent them flying into next Monday's St. Charles East sectional at St. Andrews as confident as ever.
"(Cherala) was struggling a little early but he turned it around and had an incredible finish," said Prentiss. "He's a great kid. I always say I want to be like Raghav when I grow up."
Cherala said he hit the ball the same on each side but that on the back 9 his putter came to life.
"I was hitting the ball as solid as ever," said Cherala. "I had good looks at birdies within 15 feet and I made my putts."
With Upstate Eight River champion Dan Shepherd adding a 78, which tied Larkin sophomore Jon Lenz and Batavia senior Danny Ritchason for the second best score of the day, the North Stars shot 318, beating second-place Geneva by 2 shots for the team title. St. Charles East grabbed the final team qualifying spot with a 324, 1 shot better than Batavia.
The North Stars also counted an 82 from senior Jason McAleese, while juniors Matt Samuelson and Santonio Salamone and senior Ryan Dal Degan all shot 85.
"We've had a nice week," said Prentiss, whose team won the UEC River title behind Shepherd's 69 at St. Andrews last week. "(Cherala and Shepard) are representing us real well. "We've been in the hunt for a few years so this is nice."
Putting was also a strength for Shepherd.
"I started off pretty good. I hit eight greens and one fringe on the front," said Shepherd, who went 34-44 for his 78. "I parred seven and birdied two. It was the easiest golf I could have done. On the backside I hit maybe three bad shots, I just couldn't make any putts. Stuff inside 10 feet just wasn't falling. I got a couple bad breaks but during the round you can't let that affect you. I played the best I could and didn't give up."
Geneva's second-place finish was fueled by the consistency the Vikings have struggled to find until recently.
"We haven't played great but things are starting to come together for us," said Geneva coach Bill Koehn. "It's jelling at the right time. Whether or not to will be good enough to make it to the next level I don't know. We'll have to have career rounds at sectionals."
The Vikings were led by senior Colin Lillibridge and junior Nate Desens with 79s. Junior Brett Hassels had an 80, with senior Sam McKinney and junior Alex Schreiber each carding 82s.
"Colin has been solid all year, Koehn said. "Hassels' last two tournaments have been solid and Dessens stepped up today. Sam and Alex have been playing 6-7 all year, so they're really stepping up for us."
Lillibridge had his long game going but had some issues on the greens.
"I hit the ball really well," he said. "I hit 15 greens and 11 fairways. But I struggled putting. I couldn't make any birdie putts and I had one 4-putt. I just couldn't seem to get anything to go in."
St. Charles East sneaked past Batavia for the final team spot, although the Bulldogs did qualify four individuals for the sectional round.
Junior Connor McCadam led the Saints with a 79. Junior Brad Riva and senior James Thompson each shot 81, with senior Max Kelly and junior Luke Molloy each carding 83s.
"We live another day," said St. Charles East coach John Stock, whose team had won four straight regional titles and five in the last six years.
"Congrats to North and Geneva. What a round for Raghav. But we're moving on and that's all that really matters today. We'll get it together and come out Monday and see what happens."
On the individual side, 84 was the individual cut. Larkin's sophomore twins, Jon and Dan Lenz, made it out with 78 and 80 respectively, but the Royals missed out on a team qualifying spot by shooting a 173 on the back after making the turn at 157, which was tied with St. Charles North and East for the best 9-hole score. The Royals finished fifth with a 330.
"I started put putting pretty shaky," said Jon Lenz. "I had three 3-putts on the front nine. But I only had one double bogey. I hit fairways almost every hole."
While his brother had some putting issues, Dan Lenz didn't.
"I was putting pretty well," he said. "I doubled 15 and 16 so I choked a little there but I played pretty well. I just wanted to be below 80, so not bad."
Batavia may have missed out on a team spot at sectionals, but senior Peter Rudd (81), senior Billy Zwick (82) and junior Jon Hvasta (84) will join Ritchason at St. Andrews Monday.
"I started off about average and just kept talking to myself and telling myself I could turn it around," said Ritchason. "I was 2-under on the par-5s and that really helped. My short game saved me a lot of strokes."
South Elgin finished sixth as a team with a 337 but the Storm advanced juniors Devin Meredith (81), Tyler Brown (82) and Andrew Dylo (83).
"It was pretty tough out there. There was a lot of wind," said Meredith. "I left a lot of strokes out there with my chipping and mental errors. I drove the ball well and my putting was pretty good.
Streamwood was led by junior Eric Hamlin (87) and senior Nick Turner shot 108 to lead Elgin.