CRETE – Joey Sluzas is getting hot at the right time.
The Lockport senior shook off some midseason struggles, worked on his putting and is on fire just in time for the postseason.
“I feel like I’ve been playing like this all summer, but I just haven’t been making the putts I should be making,” Sluzas said. “They’re starting to fall now. I feel like I haven’t been doing that much differently, but the scores are lower from making putts.”
Sluzas continued his strong stretch Wednesday by rolling to his second straight individual regional championship, shooting a 3-under-par 69 at Balmoral Woods to win the Class 3A Lincoln-Way Central Regional title by four strokes and lead the Porters to the team title.
Lockport (307) captured the team championship ahead of Lincoln-Way Central (313) and Minooka (314), which also advanced to Monday’s Pekin Sectional.
The Knights and Minooka edged Sandburg (315) and Lincoln-Way East (316) in a fierce battle for the final two advancing spots.
Sluzas, meanwhile, was in command of the individual race throughout the day.
“I hit it pretty good all day, and then I got a couple putts to drop in,” he said. “I drove it really nicely, so I had a lot of birdie opportunities. It was really wet out there, so I was able to take advantage of that a lot.”
Sluzas’ recent surge included winning the SouthWest Suburban Conference Blue championship and shooting a 10-under 62 in the Arnie Cup on Saturday in Edwardsville.
“I put in a lot of work on the putting greens,” Sluzas said. “I kind of noticed that I was standing too far from the ball. I made that tweak the night before I shot the 62, and I was making putts from all over the place. It’s definitely been a big confidence booster.”
Lockport coach Matt Eber has seen Sluzas’ extra effort making a difference.
“It’s good to see Joey playing really well,” Eber said. “He went through a little lull, which everyone does during the year, where he was struggling a bit. He really grinded and worked his tail off to get it back. I’m so happy to see him get that success. It’s a good lesson that if you work hard, it pays off.”
Senior Nathan Kwiatkowski finished fourth with a 74, while senior Braeden DeBlecourt tied for fifth with a 75 for the Porters. Sophomore Zachary Skrzypiec chipped in with an 89.
Lockport hopes its senior trio can keep leading the team to big things.
“It’s nice having those horses up there,” Eber said. “We’re going to need some guys to step up and replace them next year, but while we’ve got them, we’re going to ride them. They’re a joy to be around, they work hard and they’re good leaders for the younger guys. All three of them were outstanding.”
On the opposite end of the spectrum, it was a freshman leading Lincoln-Way Central to its runner-up finish. Brody Wall fired a 77 to tie for seventh.
“It’s honestly just exciting,” Wall said of his first postseason event. “I was a little nervous, but nerves are good. I think I just played some smart golf. I hit some bad drives, but overall it was pretty good.
“I’m happy for the team. It just shows all the work the team has put in this year, and I think we’ll do well in sectionals. It should be fun.”
The Knights rode a balanced effort, with seniors Henry Styx and Benjamin Howey tying for ninth with 78s and senior Carter Cunningham chipping in an 80.
Senior TJ Quinn led Minooka to sectionals, tying for second with a 73.
“I didn’t really play too well, but overall I was just trying to make pars out there,” Quinn said. “In regionals, you don’t have to play great, you just have to play not the worst. I tried to keep it together out there, tried to two-putt everything and just kept it going.
“I’m really proud of my team. We battled out there. We kept our heads high. We struggled at the beginning but we just kept going.”
Brett Widlowski and Luke Purcell both shot 79 for Minooka, while Michael Kuchar contributed an 83.
Lincoln-Way East’s Tanner Leonard (tied second, 73), Liam Shannon (tied ninth, 78) and Nico Mancini (80) advanced individually to the sectional, as did Joliet Township’s Michael Fulayter (tied ninth, 78) and Lincoln Chizmark (81).