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Playoff pays off with trip to State for golfer Wagener

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Campbell Wagener needed a playoff just to make the postseason lineup for Evanston’s golf team a couple of weeks ago.

Monday, the Wildkit junior punched a ticket to the Class 3A Illinois High School Association state tournament by taking that same playoff route.

Wagener scored a par on the second playoff hole at Sportsman’s Country Club in Northbrook and claimed one of the 10 individual qualifying berths available at the Glenbrook North Sectional tournament. At the same time, he felt the pain of eliminating a fellow teammate — Peter Barbato — in that playoff scenario.

Wagener, Barbato and Griffin Pohl of Lyons Township all carded 77s to force a playoff for the final 2 state spots. Pohl clinched his berth on the first playoff hole, leaving ETHS teammates Wagener and Barbato in a winner-take-all scenario from then on.

Wagener emerged as the survivor after Barbato scored a bogey on the No. 2 par-4 hole and Wagener tapped in a 3-foot final putt.

“As I stood over that last putt, obviously I wanted to make it. But at the same time I felt bad about it, too,” Wagener said. “So I just did what I had to do.

“I’m very, very excited to make it to State. As I was walking back up the course I was thinking about how I had to win a playoff against one of my teammates (Thomas Haller) just to get that No. 6 spot for the regional lineup. That was a pressure situation, too.

“I just swung as hard as I could on that second (playoff) hole and I got a good result on my drive, and I did the same thing on my next shot, too.”

New Trier (288), Glenbrook North (292) and York (296) all qualified full teams for the IHSA finals set for The Den in Bloomington on Friday and Saturday. The rest of Evanston’s hopefuls — Barbato at 37-40-77, Tejas Baichwal at 42-37-79, Jack Skidmore at 39-41-80 and Jacob Lipman at 40-42-82 — all turned in solid performances while falling just short in a bid to extend their individual seasons.

Barbato, if he had it to do over again, admitted that he might not have gone for it when he faced a 25-foot putt opportunity on that second playoff hole.

He pushed the aggressive shot about 10 feet past the hole, leaving an uphill task for him in pursuit of a trip to State.

“I went after it, instead of laying up like I probably should have,” Barbato said. “But I’m so excited for Cam and I’m super glad he got there, because I know how much it means to him. I just got a little anxious on that putt and blew it past the hole. Looking back at it, I probably should just have tried to put it closer.

“My main goal was to try to play more golf after today and I did get a bonus of two extra holes. I put myself in a spot I liked, I just didn’t finish it off. This is where I envisioned I’d be — and it definitely stings a little.”

Veteran head coach Jed Curtis experienced mixed emotions when it became clear that one Wildkit would be left behind Monday.

“I was so excited to have a chance to get both kids down (to State),” Curtis said, “But it quickly turned into wow, this is not really a fun spot to be in, knowing that one kid will be elated — and another kid’s dreams will be dashed. I’m super happy for Cam, but by the time we got to that second hole, it was really a no-win situation.

“Peter’s been our low average guy and he’s been brilliant for us all year. He had to fight really hard in the regional just to pull it together and get to the sectional. And he was very impressive today. He’s a very confident young man who always wants to go out and put the ball in the hole, and maybe in that (playoff) situation he might have been a little too aggressive.  But he had to be true to himself, and he’s that kind of player. He’s not out there playing defensively.”

Both playoff participants had to deal with shaky starts before finishing strong.

Wagener’s turnaround began after he shot 8-over-par over the first 8 holes, then zeroed in with an eagle from 170 yards out on the right side of Hole No. 18, a shot that set the tone for a finishing surge where he was 1-under-par over the final 10 regulation holes. That turnaround included a birdie on the par 5 No. 7 hole.

“When I made the turn, I knew I had to do something special to push through and stay in contention,” said Wagener. “I bogeyed the hole right before I got that eagle, and I had started out the day pretty nervous.”

“I started out with 2 bogeys, but I knew I could do it if I started hitting some fairways and greens,” added Barbato. “I didn’t have any birdies today and that hurt me a little. I couldn’t drop any putts, but other than that I thought I played pretty well.”

Wagener almost lost his spot in the postseason lineup once hockey practice began — he’s also a mainstay for the ETHS club team in that sport — but took advantage of the opportunity with a playoff win against Haller.

“He’s very athletic and he has such great hand-eye coordination from playing hockey,” Curtis noted. “He’s very studious and very focused and has the concentration level you really like to see in a player. He had emerged as one of our better players early in the season, but then he started with hockey and he didn’t play well over the last 2 weeks. I know he was glad to get the opportunity for that playoff.

“I thought all of our guys fought hard today and I’m proud of all of them. They all did a great job of grinding and of figuring out how to get up and down. They’re such great kids who never give up, and we’re excited about the future because we had three juniors shoot in the 70s at the toughest sectional in the state.”

Dennis Mahoney

Dennis Mahoney is sports information director for Evanston Township High School.

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