FREEPORT – A little luck went a long way Monday for Crystal Lake South’s Will Stewart.
Three-hundred and forty yards to be exact.
On his last high school hole, the Gators senior got a favorable bounce when his drive hit a tree and landed safely on the right side of the fairway, sitting about 170 yards from the par-5 No. 18 green at Park Hills West Golf Course.
Stewart’s next shot landed about 15 feet of the pin, and after leaving an eagle chance just inches short, he tapped in for birdie to end at even-par 72 and capture the individual title at the Class 2A Freeport Sectional.
Stewart held off Boylan’s Cooper Watt (74) by two shots for the top spot. Kaneland’s Cody Ganzon took third with a 75, leading the Knights to their first sectional championship in program history.
Kaneland recorded a 314 to win the team title, followed by South (322) and Prairie Ridge (331).
Marmion finished fourth with a 332, followed by Vernon Hills (334), Ottawa (335), Grayslake Central (343) and Princeton (347).
Stewart, who won medalist honors at regionals last week with a 73, became the second straight Gators golfer to win Fox Valley Conference points, regional and sectional titles in the same year.
Stewart didn't know where his drive on No. 18 landed until his dad let him know.
“That’s close to my longest drive in high school,” said Stewart, who shot a 34 on the front nine and 38 on the back, ending the day with five birdies. “That was insane. I’m just going to tell everyone that I stepped up to my last tee shot as a senior and ripped it 340 (yards), no tree involved.”
The long drive came after some frustration on No. 17, where Stewart missed a short birdie opportunity.
“I was pretty [ticked], so I stepped up on 18 and just tried to drill it,” he said. “I ended up pulling it, the wind was taking it and all of a sudden I hit some massive tree and kicked 100 yards forward. That was one of the luckiest breaks I’ve ever gotten.”
South was going for its second straight sectional championship after winning its second straight regional title last week. Even though the season ended short of the team's third straight trip to state, Stewart said he was thankful for coach Curt Wadlington, assistant Brian Adcock and his teammates.
"I'm happy for our team," said Stewart, a four-year varsity golfer. "Just to get some of these guys the sectional experience, it's too bad they don't get state but it is what it is. ... All four great years."
Instead, it was Kaneland that took the top spot, despite missing one of its top golfers. Kaneland senior Ryan Milton, a co-medalist at regionals, was not with the team Monday because a family member was sick, Knights coach Mark Meyer said.
“I’m really proud of this group,” Meyer said. “They're all ready whenever they need to step up. I know they’re going to come in next year and set their goals high. It was one of their goals to make it to state as a team. This would have done it, but I’m sure it will be high on their list of goals for next year, too."
Following Ganzon's 75, Josh Pehl carded a 78, Lucas Pehl shot 80 and Hagen Rank added an 81 to round out the scoring for the Knights.
“I think this is probably the best team that Kaneland has ever had,” said Lucas Pehl, a senior. “It meant a lot. I knew coming in, I had to play well because it’s my last high school round. Coming in with an 80, I did shoot better than last year’s sectionals.”
In a year unlike any other because of COVID-19, Kaneland finished the year as Interstate Eight Conference, regional and sectional champions.
“It’s been a tough year, a lot of unknowns with COVID,” Josh Pehl said. “(Winning sectionals) is the cherry on top of everything.”
"It means a lot to us," Ganzon added. "It was tough conditions today. 20 mph winds; it was raining; it was just tough. Pulling it off feels good. I think all of us have a special drive to do anything we desire. We'll fight through and keep fighting until it's over."
For Crystal Lake South, Spencer Shireman posted an 80, Tanner Coakley had an 82, and Ricky Falbo had an 88. Shireman, Coakley and Falbo, all seniors, said that Monday’s round would not be their last.
“We’ve known each other for awhile now, and we still play golf, even on the weekends when we don’t have practice,” Falbo said. “We’re out there playing all the time. That’s what we’re here for, and that’s why we love it so much."
Prairie Ridge was led by freshman Charlie Pettrone and junior Jake Friedman with 81s. Also for the Wolves, Eddie Winkelmann had an 83 and Danny Saville had an 86.
Pettrone, a freshman, has high hopes for his next three years.
“I’m still small, I can’t really hit it that far right now,” Pettrone said. “When I grow a little more, I hope I can hit it far and play along with these guys but I feel like I’m holding up fine with these guys right now."
Marian Central’s Owen Jager carded a 95 with a birdie.