FAIRFIELD TOWNSHIP — Despite his team’s unexpected success in just their second season in existence last year, Homer-Center golf coach Mike Gaydosh didn’t foresee the Wildcats repeating as Heritage Conference champs this season.
Even so, Gaydosh preached daily evolution, and his players took his sentiments to heart, building off their day-to-day strides and racking up a 9-1 conference mark to claim the first-ever Heritage Conference regular-season crown earlier this month.
The Wildcats shocked Gaydosh even more Thursday by carding a team score of 349 and finishing 17 strokes ahead of second-place Ligonier Valley to win the Heritage Conference Golf Tournament at Champion Lakes Golf Course.
Blairsville’s Jake Shirley posted an 82 to nab the boys’ low-medalist honor. Northern Cambria’s Molly Salley fired a 112 to medal in the inaugural girls’ tournament.
Homer-Center’s Colin Moore finished in a tie for third (83), and Alex Arone finished in a tie for eighth (89) in the boys’ tournament.
“It’s a great feeling,” Gaydosh said. “Going into this year, if you would have told me that we’d be conference champs for the second straight year on this day, I would have told you, ‘No way.’
“The bar was set high from the team we had last year, but with the guys we had coming back, I would have never thought it. I thought we’d be lucky to go .500 this year. We weren’t the best team in the conference. Northern Cambria was better by far. But we stayed consistent all year, we held it together, and we took it one match at a time, and that’s what got us to where we are today.”
Three of Homer-Center’s four golfers placed in the top 10, and Logan Dellafiora paced the Wildcats with a second-place finish (83).
On unforgiving greens, Dellafiora mustered just one birdie and one par. He used a sand wedge to come within a foot of the hole on his third stroke on No. 15, a par-5 hole, before sinking the ensuing putt for birdie.
On No. 3, a par-3 hole, Dellafiora pulled his tee shot, but recovered with an approach that left him with an easy two-foot putt, which he sunk for par.
Dellafiora talked about the speed of the greens, and admitted that he was fortunate to card an 83.
“I think I only hit four greens today, so it was a lot of ups and downs,” Dellafiora, who didn’t place in last year’s tournament, said. “The putting was really tough. I probably had a couple three-putts. It was tough getting around the course today. If I would have hit more greens it would have been lower, but it was just a lot of ups and downs today.”
Shirley made an 8-foot putt to birdie No. 4, a par-3 hole. He then missed an eagle opportunity on a 7-foot putt on No. 15 before sinking his follow-up putt for birdie.
Shirley agreed with Dellafiora, offering the following about the greens: “These greens were really fast. I didn’t putt poorly, but it definitely wasn’t one of my best putting efforts.”
Shirley, who placed sixth as a freshman, but didn’t take home a ribbon the last two seasons, acknowledged the significance of winning the tournament as a senior.
“It’s feels great after not playing well in these type of tournaments the last couple of years. It feels great to finally come through,” Shirley said.
Marion Center’s Tyler Helman, last year’s runner-up, finished in a three-way tie for third with Moore and United’s A.J. Bono.
Other top 10 finishers were Ligonier Valley’s Phil Cornell (sixth), Northern Cambria’s Mark Farrell (seventh), Blairsville’s Corey Ramsden (tie for eighth) and Ligonier Valley’s Dylon Kuhn (tie for eighth).
Kylee Surike placed second and shot a 114 in the girls’ tournament for United. Blairsville’s Marissa Lawton finished third, Homer-Center’s Mary Beth Fletcher took fourth, and Homer-Center’s Julia Dixon placed fifth.