LOCKPORT – Ben Sluzas wasn’t too thrilled when his first round of the Class 3A boys golf state finals was cancelled because of lousy weather Friday.
That’s because the Porters sophomore had a respectable even-par round going through 12 holes that tied him for fifth place, only two strokes behind the early leaders.
But the cancellation of the opening day of tournament at The Den at Fox Creek in Bloomington proved to work out well not only for Sluzas, but also his Lockport teammates.
With coach Matt Eber’s team getting a second chance to start over from Friday’s team effort, Lockport suddenly found itself in a position to get a state trophy for a top-three finish.
Sluzas perhaps was the biggest beneficiary of all after starting with a
37 and finishing with a 31 for a four-under-par 68. Needing a big finish to get past Lincoln-Way Central sophomore Sean Curran for the title, Sluzas had a birdie and an eagle to win by a stroke.
As a result, Sluzas becomes the first sophomore in at least 26 years to win a title in Class 3A. He also became Lockport’s first golf state champion since Drew Pierson captured the title in 2000. A year ago, he was the only freshman in Class 3A to qualify individually.
Thanks in part to Sluzas’ big day, the Porters just missed winning a team title. Hinsdale Central shot a 297 to take first, while Stevenson fired a 298 and the Porters posted a 299 to settle for third place. Lockport’s finish was the the same as it was in 2000 and marked only the third time that it had won a trophy.
“After they said that Friday was canceled, I was mad, but then I got in the clubhouse and knew that the team wasn’t playing that well,” Sluzas said. “So then you just have to think about the next day and keep playing. When I got back to the hotel room, my golf coach Kevin Weeks called me and told me that he understood that I was mad, but I had to get through it and just play for the next day. So I just slept on it and played my heart out.
“We knew that we had almost a re-do and Saturday was our last day so just see what happens. On the front nine, I was one-over and the kid I was playing with (Waubonsie Valley’s Will Troy was two-under, so I wasn’t even thinking about it. But on the back nine, I started making some birdies and got to one-under. I told myself that today was the only day that I’d get this chance so I couldn’t leave any other putt short to give me a chance. I birdied 17 and then I was tied, and I tried to give myself the best chance. I had a good drive on 18, hit a really good second shot to 12 feet and then made the putt.
“It’s amazing. At the beginning of the year, I knew I could do it, and I just kept practicing. So to have that last putt fall and become state champion was great, and it’s definitely motivation for the next two years. Hopefully a lot of people from Lockport will remember this. Now it’s time to rebuild and hopefully have the same chance o try to win state again.”
In addition to Sluzas’ 68, the Porters relied on their three seniors for their other scores. Nolan Weis finished with a 75, Eric Gasienica posted a 77 and John Weis turned in a 79. Sophomore VJ Greci wound up with an 84, while freshman Brody McCarthy had an 85.
While Lockport was able to equaled its third-place finish from 2000 for coach Dave DeVol, it fell only one stroke shy of equalling the school’s all-time best showing in the sport, which was second-place in the spring of 1966 under coach Bob Basarich.
But that was OK for the Porters, who took second at the Joliet Central Regional and third at the Edwardsville Sectional, where it was two strokes ahead of the fourth-place team.
“The first day was brutal, and you didn’t even want to play,” Gasienica said. “The mentality going into the state tournament was that we wanted two solid days, right around 300, but that was for two days and after they canceled the first, the mentality was just to put a number up and shoot lights out. We knew that we had the talent to do it, but we were seeded as one of the last teams and we like to look at ourselves as the underdogs. We knew that we deserved to be at the state tournament, and we performed when we needed to, which was good.
“We told ourselves after last year that we were going to make it down there this year as a team, no matter what, and we were going to do some damage there. We all worked hard throughout the summer. And each time we practiced we were the last school on the course, and it showed down the stretch. I liked our camaraderie and how we all got along really well. We all were pushing each other in the right direction and worked as a unit.”
Despite the fact that his team was second in the regional and third in the sectional by only two strokes in the sectional, Eber felt confident about his team’s chances in Bloomington.
“Once we started shooting sub-300s, that’s when I thought we had a chance because we could play with those guys,” Eber said. “When we got to state, I knew that we had a chance to shoot those numbers, but I just wasn’t sure how we’d hold up. When they scrapped day one, we just had to regroup and credit our boys, Ben included, because a lot of teams didn’t rebound as well as we did. On Saturday, we had one score that counted that had a double-bogey in it, everything else were pars and bogeys and eagles and that was huge.
“We have a nice base to return and to keep something going here. When I took over from coach (George) Brecheisen in 2012, we talked about what we had to do to get it back, and we put the steps in place. Getting kids like these only helps and then to do something like this is great.”