By his own admission, Luke Molloy didn't put together the kind of senior golf season he had anticipated enjoying in his final year at St. Charles East.
That is, until Tuesday.
Entering the St. Charles East regional as the sixth and final player in the Saints' lineup, Molloy picked the right time to play his best round of the season. On a day when nearly every player struggled with tricky pin placements on the greens of St. Andrews Golf Club in West Chicago, the easygoing senior carded a 5-over-par 76 that earned him medalist honors and drove East to the regional championship.
The Saints' team score of 319 edged Geneva (321) by two strokes just six days after the Vikings had beaten East for the title at the Upstate Eight Conference River Division meet. St. Charles North earned the third and final team ticket to Monday's Naperville Central sectional with a score of 326.
With few expectations on his shoulders, Molloy delivered a steady, solid performance. He made two birdies, nine pars, seven bogeys and, most importantly, no double bogeys on a day when numerous players struggled with pins situated near the top of fast, sloping greens, making putting hazardous and even leading to the occasional 6- and 7-putt. Molloy was particularly strong on the front nine holes at St. Andrews, firing a 1-over-par 36.
"I didn't quite have the senior season I had hoped for," said Molloy, who, although he struggled at some dual meets and invitationals, did bounce back to record a fifth-place round of 78 at the Upstate Eight meet. "Entering the regional, I just wanted to play smart. I was hitting a lot of fairways today. I was hitting my irons and drives well. I only had one 3-putt all day. I was just aiming to put the ball toward the middle of each green, then trying to 2-putt. That helped me out a lot."
East's senior-laden lineup may have given the Saints the experience edge they needed to claim the regional title. East started five seniors and one junior, and four of the seniors were playing in their third regional meet.
"I think this gives us a lot of momentum going into the sectional," Molloy said, pointing out that East has already played twice this season at Springbrook Golf Course in Naperville, site of the Naperville Central sectional, shooting well as a team in both appearances. The Saints are gunning for their first trip to the state finals since finishing seventh in 2010 and tying for seventh in 2009 under coach John Stock.
Molloy received help at the regional from teammates Kyle Jacobs (78), Jake Bertke (82) and Brad Riva (83).
Geneva made a late charge at East for the title but came up just short. Freshman Graham Lillibridge paced the Vikings with a 78. He was joined by Brett Hassels (80), Alex Schreiber (81) and Dan Cisco (82). Lillibridge came up with the shot of the day when he eagled the 14th hole en route to earning a second-place tie with the Saints' Jacobs.
"We wanted to win the meet, but our main goal was to advance to sectionals," Lillibridge said. "I knew I had to score well today to help the team, so it felt good to see us get on to sectional. I shot a 75 at Springbrook last weekend, so I'm looking forward to it."
Seniors Raghav Cherala and Santino Salamone fired 81s to lift St. Charles North past Batavia (330) for the third and final sectional qualifying berth. Cherala hopes to turn his fourth and final trip to sectionals into a springboard to his first appearance at the state meet, which takes place Oct. 18 and 19 in Bloomington.
"I'm playing pretty well right now," said Cherala, whose medalist performance at last year's Larkin regional propelled St. Charles North to the team championship. "It's a tough field, but if I make a few more putts and play a solid all-around game at sectionals, you never know."
Cherala and Salamone received support from fellow seniors JT Grill and Matthew Samuelson, who both carded an 82.
While Batavia missed advancing to the sectional by four strokes, coach Tim DeBruycker's squad sent three individual qualifiers to Springbrook Golf Course: Jacob Piechota (80), sophomore Nick Robinson (83) and senior Nick Bleidorn (83).
Piechota is particularly excited about making his first sectional appearance after serving as Batavia's No. 6 player as a junior.
"I worked a lot on my golf over the summer," said the senior, who garnered all-Upstate Eight honors at last week's conference meet. "I cut six strokes off my score this summer, mostly by working on my short game. It's great to see that all that hard work paid off."
Like Batavia, South Elgin also advanced three individual players to next week's sectional. Senior Andrew Dylo reached sectionals for the second straight year with a fourth-place showing of 79. Senior teammate Tyler Brown shot an 80, and sophomore Nate Reeser claimed one of the last two individual spots with an 84.
South Elgin placed fifth as a team with a score of 331. Coach Jay Bartholomew was proud of how his players fought through difficult conditions to grab spots in a sectional field that he believes is the most challenging in the state, highlighted by state meet favorites Hinsdale Central and Lyons Township.
"We'll be in the toughest sectional around," Bartholomew said. "You have to shoot 74 or better to make it out of that sectional. Tyler Brown shot a 74 at the West Chicago Invitational this season, so anything's possible."
West Chicago's Dino Parducci will be bringing that same optimism to Springbrook next week. The senior reached the sectional for the first time by shooting an 81 on Tuesday, keeping alive his dream of a first-ever trip to state.
"It's been my goal to get to state since I made the varsity team my freshman year," said Parducci, who parlayed one birdie, 11 bogeys and six pars into a ticket to the sectional. "I just need to play my game, stay focused, play smart and give it my best shot."
Larkin's Dan Lenz will join Parducci at the sectional as an individual qualifier after shooting an 81. The junior is no stranger to sectionals, advancing to the St. Charles East sectional last season.