WESTFIELD -- It may not have been how the Lenox golf team wanted to get to the MIAA Division III state tournament. The Millionaires will take it and run to northeastern Massachusetts.
The defending champions had only one golfer break 80 at the Tekoa Country Club and had to settle for second place in the Western Massachusetts Tournament Monday. That was good enough to send the Millionaires to Devens next Monday.
"I never felt this good about finishing second," said Lenox's Kris Vahle. "This is honestly amazing. I don't know how we did it. I know it was ugly and I know this guy [Lenox coach Dick Salinetti] isn't happy.
"We'll definitely have a chip on our shoulder. We're just trying to get to states and prove that we do belong."
Vahle shot a 79 for the Millionaires and Lenox finished up with a score of 326. Franklin Tech, who had the medalist in Cody Booska, finished up with 327.
St. Mary's of Westfield, who call Tekoa its home course, claimed the gold trophy with a 319.
Salinetti said that despite not having any sterling scores, their balance is what got them into the state tournament.
Lenox qualified with Vahle's 8-over 79, with an 81 from Cam Besse, 82 from Thomas Villetto and 84 from C.J. Meczywor.
"[Lenox had] four scores around 80. Franklin Tech had a 72 and a 78, but they didn't have the balance that we did," Salinetti said. "All in all, we're really happy. We'd rather be going to the states [and play] one more week of golf."
Vahle, Besse and Lee's Jared Fadding were the only Berkshire County golfers to crack the top 10. Besse and Fadding tied for eighth at 81. Fadding shot 40-41 while Besse shot 41-40.
Lee's Andy Consolati cracked the top 20 with an 83 for 14th place, while Meczywor finished in a tie for 15th.
Vahle might have had the best round for a Berkshire County golfer, but it was far from smile-inducing.
"My ball-striking all day was horrible. I had no confidence in anything," said Vahle, who finished tied for seventh in last year's tournament at the Berkshire Hills Country Club in Pittsfield. "I think I hit two or three greens and I was one over through 12. My chipping, my short game was the best it's felt all year. I felt if I missed a green that I'd make par."
With the shotgun start, Vahle left from the fourth tee with Brandon Lenois of Turners Falls and James Elliott of Pioneer Valley. Vahle was 1-over-par through his first 12 holes.
From there, the wheels kind of came off for the Lenox senior with four bogeys and two double bogeys on the next six holes.
Fortunately for Lenox, Vahle righted his ship with a par on the second and a birdie on the par-3 third hole to finish his round.
Lenox's Villetto, who finished tied for third last year at Berkshire Hills, teed off from the par-3 sixth hole and promptly bogeyed the hole. He had bogeys on three of the first four holes, and never really recovered.
"I made six bogeys or worse from a wobble-edge distance in the fairway today. I pretty much chunked every wedge. I didn't make a putt outside of six feet," Villetto said, when asked about his round. "Mostly the wedge play [was good]. It was pretty embarrassing, actually.
"I'd be in the middle of the fairway and would literally come up 20 yards short or send it over the green. That's the best part of my game, being that close."
Twelve months ago, St. Mary's was looking up at Lenox from a fourth-place finish. The Saints were 24 strokes behind the Millionaires then. Playing on the home course, St. Mary's Noah Parker said that the team may not have thought that way, but he said he wanted some revenge.
"They destroyed us last year and we just wanted to come back and shoot some great scores," said Parker, who was two shots away from earning medalist honors. "We came together as a group over the summer and over the fall."
For St. Mary's and Lenox, it's off to the Red Tail Golf Club in Devens on Monday for the state Division III tournament.
"It's funny how your expectations change," said Vahle. "From the beginning of the tournament, we were confident of [getting] the win. Now at this point, we're just so happy to be moving on."
"It's our fourth straight appearance," said Villetto. "Hopefully, we'll have our best state finish now."
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