SPRINGETTSBURY TOWNSHIP – Samantha Yao’s 35-foot eagle try on the 18th green Tuesday hit right in the middle of the hole, jumped in the air and then settled three feet past the hole.
The Conestoga sophomore’s valiant bid for a PIAA Class AAA championship was over, but only because it took all the determination that Peters Township senior Mia Kness could muster on a chilly, blustery day at the Heritage Hills Golf Resort to wrest the title away from Yao.
“It was just good shots all around and it went right to the last hole,” a happy Kness said after she carded a second consecutive even-par 72 over the 6,223-yard, par-72 Heritage Hills layout to finish two shots clear of Yao at even-par 144. “We were battling out there shot for shot all day.”
Yao missed her comebacker for birdie. If she had had to make it, she would have. Had she made it, it would have given her a birdie, birdie, birdie finish. As it was, Yao finished with a 2-over 74 to grab the silver medal at 2-over 146.
“I hit it too hard,” Yao, who had swept to District One and East Regional titles the last two weeks, said of her eagle try. “I was trying to catch up. I had to go for it.”
Yao had been playing from behind ever since she opened the second round with a double bogey at the par-4 first. She made birdie at the second, bogey at the third, birdie at the fourth, another double bogey at the par-3 fifth.
Meanwhile Kness, who had finished in a tie for third at Heritage Hills a year ago, made birdies at three and five.
Yao was just trying to keep the deficit at five as she stood over a chip for par at the par-5 seventh. Summoning her brand of short-game magic, she holed it. Then she holed a nearly impossible chip from the back of the par-3 eighth for birdie.
Kness and Yao both made a bit of a mess of the par-4 ninth, Kness finding the water twice and making a triple bogey seven, Yao also finding the water off the tee and making a tough 12-footer for bogey. When Kness missed a tough par putt at the 10th, Yao was just a shot behind. Central York junior Julianne Lee was only two back.
It would be understandable if Kness was feeling frazzled. She was not. Yao kept pushing. Kness kept answering.
Yao missed a six-foot birdie try at the par-5 11th after nearly holing her chip – sensing a pattern here when the girl has a wedge in her hand? But both players made par at 11, 12 and 13.
A poor approach at the par-4 14th by Yao led to a three-putt for bogey that enabled Kness to stretch her advantage to two shots.
The rest was a blur of brilliant shots.
Kness stuck her tee shot at the tough par-3 15th to 10 feet while Yao missed the green left. She was short-sided. She should have been dead. But Yao chipped it to three feet and made par after Kness couldn’t coax her birdie try to fall.
Yao cut her deficit to one again as she flew her wedge at the par-4 16th right over the flag and drained a really tough 17-foot downhill slider for birdie.
At the par-4 17th, Kness drilled her approach 11 feet to the left of the hole. Yao hit an 8-iron 12 feet to the right of the hole. They both made the putts, Kness’ probably the tougher of the two and coming after Yao had made hers.
They both reached the front of the 456-yard, par-5 18th – the boys play it as a par-4 – in two. Yao’s eagle try was right at the hole, but popped out. Kness nestled her 30-foot eagle putt to tap-in range for a finishing birdie and the state championship.
“I’ve been coming here for four years and always the goal was to win a state championship,” said Kness, who is headed for Seton Hall, where she will join last year’s PIAA Class AAA runnerup, Maddie Sager of Owen J. Roberts and former Coatesville standout Sammie Staudt.
It is the first time a non-District One golfer has won the big-school girls title since Waynesburg Central’s Rachel Rohanna, who is on the LPGA Tour, won the second of her two titles in 2007. There was only one classification for golf then.
Don’t be shocked if Yao returns the title to District One a year from now.
The other two members of the final foursome accounted for the rest of the top four. Central York’s Lee carded a solid 74 to take third at 149, three shots behind Yao. Pine Richland sophomore Lauren Freyvogel had a 78 to take fourth at 153.
Emmaus senior Samantha Fitzinger had a 78 to finish fifth at 155 and claim the last state medal. Uniontown sophomore Danae Rugola carded an 81 to take sixth at 157.
Radnor senior Gabby Kim had an 81 to cap her outstanding career with a seventh-place finish at 158. As a junior, Kim captured the East Regional title and helped the Raiders claim the PIAA Class AAA boys team title.
Kim’s younger sister June, a freshman, carded an 88 to finish 13th at 173.
In Class AA, Greensburg Central Catholic senior Olivia Zambruno posted a gritty 82 to capture the state title at 157.
Zambruno, who had opened the tournament with a 75 in Monday’s comparatively docile conditions, opened her round by going bogey, bogey, bogey, bogey, triple bogey, but played 3-over golf the rest of the way to get the job done.
Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic freshman Madie Smithco closed with a 77 to finish two shots back of Zambruno at 159. Lancaster Mennonite senior Grace Stillman had a 79 to grab third at 163.
New Hope-Solebury junior Nina Kouchi, who had swept to District One and East Regional titles, struggled to a 92 Tuesday to finish alone in eighth at 173.
On the boys side, Nazareth Area senior Kevin Scherr, who had opened up a four-shot lead with an opening-round 69, carded a 4-over 75 over a Heritage Hills course that measures 6,700 yards for the guys, for a 2-over 144 total that gave him a five-shot victory and the Class AAA state title.
Cumberland Valley senior Campbell Wolf, one of six players who were tied for second after an opening-round 73, posted a 76 to win the silver medal at 7-over 149.
Scherr opened his round Tuesday with a birdie at the par-4 first hole and didn’t make another. He had bogeys at the second, fifth, ninth, 15th and 16th holes for a 75 that was more than good enough in the challenging conditions.
Pope John Paul II junior J.T. Spina added a 77 to his opening-round 73 to get a share of third with Latrobe sophomore Brady Pevarnik, who also had a 77, at 150. Spina was the top finisher among the 10-player contingent from District One.
Central York freshman Carson Bacha had the day’s best round in Class AAA, a 2-over 73, to finish fifth at 151. Fox Chapel’s Alex Lawson and Anthony Cordaro, both seniors, finished in a tie for sixth with Erie Cathedral Prep sophomore Patrick Kelly at 153. Lawson and Kelly each shot 80 while Cordero moved up the leaderboard with a 3-over 74.
Upper Dublin freshman David Kim led the rest of the District One contingent, adding a 76 to his opening-round 78 to finish in a tie for ninth at 154.
North Penn senior Ron Robinson had a 76 to finish in a tie for 14th at 157.
Spring-Ford junior Ben Pochet, who had swept to District One and East Regional titles, had a 77 to finish in a tie for 17th at 158. He was joined at that figure by Pioneer Athletic Conference rival Kyle Vance. The Methacton senior, the best player in District One the last four years, closed with a 75.
Downingtown East junior Wills Montgomery had an 82 to finish alone in 20th at 159, Unionville junior Nick Gianelos and Norristown sophomore Caleb Ryan each carded a 79 to finish in a group tied for 23rd at 160, Bishop Shanahan junior Ryan Conners had an 85 to finish in a tie for 31st at 164 and West Chester Rustin senior Luke Shevlin posted a 92 to finish 34th at 166.
In Class AA, the day’s best round belonged to Quaker Valley senior Chris Tanabe and his 1-under 70 gave him a one-shot victory over Riverside freshman Skyler Fox and the state title. Combined with his opening-round 76, Tanabe finished with a 4-over 146 total. Fox, who also opened with a 76, matched par with a 71 to finish at 5-over 147.
Tanabe made pars at the first six holes before sandwiching birdies at the seventh and ninth holes around a bogey at eight. A birdie at the 10th got him to 2-under before giving a shot back with a bogey at the 16th.
Laurel senior Evan Long had a 75 to finish third at 149.
Devon Prep junior Bryan Donato had an 86 to finish in a tie for 27th and District One champion Daniel Galbreath, a senior at Lower Moreland, had an 83 to finish 31st at 175.