HOLLIDAYSBURG — Last year, Jack McCullough blazed a trail for the West Shamokin golf program.
This year, all of the Wolves followed the path to the PIAA tournament.
Led by individual champion Eric Spencer and McCullough at runner-up, West Shamokin won the District 6 Class 2A boys’ golf championship in windy conditions at Scotch Valley Country Club on Wednesday and earned a berth in the state tournament later this month. The Wolves are believed to be the first Heritage Conference member to claim the team title.
Coming off a runner-up finish last year, West Shamokin set sight on the title and reeled it in.
“It’s feels great, there’s no other way to put it, “ West Shamokin coach Judd McCullough said. “I feel great for the kids, and as a coach, it feels good, too. The goal was to win the Heritage and District 6 and see what happens after that. The kids knew that from the very first practice. Obviously, they worked their butts off and achieved it.”
Jack McCullough led West Shamokin to the Heritage Conference title last week. This week it was Spencer’s turn. Both are seniors.
Spencer topped his teammate in a one-on-one duel, sinking a birdie putt on the final hole to post a 74. McCullough parred 18 and finished with a 75. Third-place Brady Handy of Huntingdon shot an 82. Tyrone’s Jake Taylor (84) and Huntingdon’s Ryan Marshall (85) rounded out the top five. The top five individuals and the top team earned state berths.
“They played head to head,” Judd McCullough said. “Going into the day we were just hoping to advance out of the top five because there are a lot of good kids. Playing next to each other probably helped for a while, but down the stretch it probably became a little awkward.”
The duo was even going to No. 15, and each doubled-bogey 16. After both sank par putts on 17, each drove the middle of the fairway on 18.
“Both bombed their tee shots on 18 and stuck their second shots,” the coach said. “It’s a tough uphill par 4, and Jack was within 15 feet and Eric was about 8 feet. Jack just missed his, and I walked over to Eric’s dad and whispered, ‘This is going in.’ And it did.”
Judd McCullough is Jack’s father and Eric’s uncle.
“My stomach is still feeling like knots,” the coach said. “Watching them down the stretch was bittersweet and super-sweet. I didn’t want either one to lose or either one to win.”
Last year, Jack McCullough became the first player from his school to qualify for the state tournament. Spencer went along for the ride and watched. This year all five of the Wolves are making the trip.
“Eric could have easily gone last year and Jack could have been left behind,” Coach McCullough said. “They’ve been neck and neck their whole careers, and both knew what was riding on the line. Sean exorcized the demons of not going to states last year, and it’s a huge thing to win District 6. They both have put in a ton of work — the whole team has. I’m happy for the whole team and especially Eric and Jack. Eric hitting that last putt was poetic.”
The field teed off Wednesday morning in windy conditions that did not relent.
“It was as brutal as I’ve seen in a competition like this outside of a coastal environment,” the coach said. “It was worth at least two or three strokes, if not four or five strokes. So 74-75 is just incredible.
“There were a couple times I wish I could have taken a couple timeouts and talked about certain things, but they did pretty well. There were a couple three- and four-club winds. You get those conditions once in a while, but not when there’s not a storm, and it was just windy up on Scotch Valley. It was brutal. The first nine was cold for the kids because of the wind and the temperature. The temperature warmed up and wasn’t a factor, but the wind was brutal from the time we went to the range to the very end. It didn’t let up.”
In the team standings, West Shamokin dominated, posting a 337 and beating second-place Penn Cambria (363) by 26 strokes. Sean McCullough (90), Tyler Geist (98) and Grant Johnston (105) rounded out the effort.
“Everything else was anticlimactic for the team,” the coach said, “but Eric and Jack had a special kind of experience.”
The individual state tournament is Oct. 19 at Heritage Hills Golf Resort in York.
First, West Shamokin plays the District 5 champion, which has yet to be determined, in a subregional on Oct. 14 at Ebensburg Country Club, with the winner earning a berth in PIAA team tournament. That match replaces the traditional state qualifier, the Western Regional that was scheduled to be played at Tom’s Run near Blairsville but was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The PIAA team tournament is Oct. 26 at Heritage Hills.
“I love this team, I love the guys, and I’m super-excited,” the coach said. “The fact that Tom’s Run is out of the equation is maybe an easier path, but it made (Wednesday) a tougher task for the kids to handle their emotions and be poised.”