GEORGETOWN — St. John’s Prep senior golf captain Jeff O’Connor had no hesitation admitting where the strength of the Eagles lineup could be found this season.
A freshman and two sophomores produced three of the Eagles’ top four qualifying scores as they captured the Division 1 state golf championship yesterday afternoon at Black Swan Country Club with a team score of 312. St. John’s edged Catholic Conference rival Xaverian on a tiebreaker for the crown.
The title was the 13th overall for St. John’s Prep and first since 2010. Head coach Larry O’Neill has been at the helm for seven of the Eagles’ state championships.
Yesterday, St. John’s was led by sophomores Steven DiLisio (even-par 72) and James Turner (80), and freshman Mark Turner (80).
“They’re the biggest part of our team; without them, we were not going anywhere. Our job as seniors was to make sure they felt safe to play well, that they were accepted and making sure they were ready to play their game,” O’Connor said.
“That was our main goal, just making sure those kids could get after it and we could sit back. They’ve got all the talent.”
Two of the seniors — O’Connor included — may have come up with the biggest scores, however. Justin Serowik, playing out of the No. 6 spot for St. John’s, shot an 80, and O’Connor’s 82 was the tiebreaking score.
“It’s pretty awesome. It’s one of our goals to win a state championship every year (but) kind of hard to do,” O’Connor said. “I think the biggest thing is that we all knew going in that we had to finish everything out and not leave any shots out there.”
Black Swan was playing more difficult than normal because of a stiff wind that rarely seemed to be at the players’ backs. The Eagles, particularly DiLisio, made the necessary adjustments on the back nine to seal the victory.
DiLisio started slow with bogies on the first two holes and made the turn with a 3-over 39. He remained confident, however, and made a charge over the final nine holes, shooting 3-under during that span to tie for the low round with a 72.
He ended up losing the individual title in a three-way playoff with Needham’s Jake Shuman and Lincoln-Sudbury’s Matt Organisak. Shuman captured his second straight Division 1 state title with a birdie on the second playoff hole.
“I happened to see him coming by (at the turn) and I could tell right away he wasn’t happy,” O’Neill said about DiLisio. “He said he was 3-over, but he said he was going to go under par on the other side ... and he did. He doesn’t get discouraged by a bad hole or a bad shot. The only attitude to have is that the only shot you can do anything about is the next one. He’s like that.”
DiLisio’s first birdie of the day came when he dropped a putt from approximately 40 feet away on the 10th hole. He added two more birdies before the day was over.
“I know the back nine is a little easier and 3-over was not going to cut it,” DiLisio said. “I told myself I had to turn it around to help the team out. They were counting on me to put up a good number and you just try to do the best you can.”
DiLisio just happens to be one of those money players, the type who plays his best when the pressure is greatest.
By the time he stepped to the tee on his final hole, DiLisio (then 1-over par) knew he had a chance at the individual title. He played an aggressive drive over the trees on the dogleg, par 5 18th, then hit an iron to the front of the green from 210 yards away. His eagle putt came up just short and DiLisio tapped in for birdie. That hole essentially pulled St. John’s even with Xaverian and forced the individual playoff.
He was the same player in the state final as the one the Eagles counted on all year. Through 18 regular season matches, DiLisio’s scoring average was 36.1 and he was even par or under 10 times.
“He’s extraordinary. He may well be, after two more years, the best player we’ve ever had,” O’Neill said. “Unfortunately, we rely on him to shoot the lowest number of the day, and we’ll try to help him out. He did it again today. Anything but a 72 and we would have lost. He’s a very talented young player.”
His performance, combined with that of the Turner brothers (James and Mark) and freshman Chris Francoeur (83), helped the seniors — O’Connor, Serowik, Max Burt and Tim Tully — wrap their careers up with a state title.
“I know they wanted to win,” DiLisio said. “As much as I would’ve liked to win the individual, I’m just very happy that we won as a team.”