Greenwich High boys golfers dominated competition

It is going to be a struggle for any team to duplicate what the Greenwich High School boys golf team accomplished this season.

After a disappointing end to last year’s campaign, a highly talented, as well as a highly motivated, group of Cardinals took to the golf course and were determined to attain its goals.

Did they ever. The Greenwich High golf team finished the season undefeated, capturing three tournaments, the Fairfield County Interscholastic Athletic Conference championship and hotly contested CIAC Division I golf championship.

“In my opinion, I don’t think this team got as much credit as they deserved,” Greenwich High head coach Jeff Santilli said. “I don’t know if people realize how hard it was for them to do what they did in this sport. It’s not like football, where you have the best talent and the talent will show. Golf is a total mind game. You need to stay focused and have that drive to want to win is huge. From the start, that wasn’t an issue with this team. They always wanted to do better and you could see it. In the state championship, there was a lot of pressure, but we didn’t talk about it. We just did everything that we did from the start of the season.”

Last season, the Cardinals finished runners-up twice. In the Division I state golf finals, which were held at the Timberlin Golf Club in Kensington, Big Red finished four strokes behind Ridgefield’s championship-winning score of 307. During the FCIAC championship match, held at Fairfield’s Fairchild Wheeler Golf Course, Greenwich High tied Staples High School for second place with a score of 308. New Canaan won the competition by finishing seven strokes ahead of Big Red and the Wreckers.

While the season didn’t end the way the Cardinals were hoping it would, Santilli was confident about making a run at championships this season.

“Coming off our finishes last season, I knew we had a solid core of kids returning,” Santilli said. “Basically four of the five starters were coming back. We knew it was going to be an interesting season and that we had a lot of talent coming back, so we just needed to find out how to get them ready for the regular season and postseason.”

To start the season, Greenwich got an added boost by the addition of Chris Pavelic to the varsity lineup. With five quality varsity starters, Santilli knew that the sky was the limit with this year’s golf team.

“Instead of having four returners, we had five solid guys in the starting lineup,” Santilli said. “In high school golf, it’s a challenge to get five solid players and we had five starters that at any given time, any one of them could have been a medalists in a match. That’s a great problem to have. We had a set lineup and they were able to gel as a team.”

Greenwich’s victory at the Brunswick Invitational was nothing but impressive. The Cardinals, Bruins, New Canaan High School and Bergen Catholic entered the tournament with a combined one loss on the regular season. At the end of the day, it was the Cardinals that came out shooting a 303 and were four strokes better than second place Bergen Catholic.

Big Red kept the good times rolling at both the Chappa and Holohan tournaments. The duo of senior captain Stephen Pastore and junior Danny Guise finished first place overall with a 5-under par. At the Holohan, junior Chris Pavelic netted a 76 on the afternoon to take top honors.

Then came the FCIAC championship at Fairfield’s Fairchild Wheeler Golf Club and Big Red got some sweet revenge from last year and dominated the competition. Greenwich High cruised to the FCIAC title with an aggregate score of 290. Staples, who tied GHS last season, finished 21 strokes behind the leader. Guise, who was named FCIAC Player of the Year, shot a 2-under par 69 to lead Big Red. J.P. Raftery took second on the team by shooting a 1-over par 72. Sophomore Paul Pastore netted a 2-over par 73 and Pavelic rounded out the scoring for GHS by shooting a 76 on the afternoon.

“I am very proud of this team,” Santilli said. “They kept their mindset and were focused the entire season. It could have easily gone the opposite way for us. To get cocky is very easy, especially when we went undefeated in the regular season, won the Brunswick Invitational, won the Chappa and Holohan tournaments and won FCIACs by 21 strokes. For them to put all that behind them and go into the state championship with the goal of winning the state championship to make the season complete was great.”

With all but one goal accomplished, Big Red stepped on the course at the Tall Wood Country Club for the state championship and flexed its muscle one more time. Setting a state record by having the team differential a whopping 3.8, the Cardinals came away with a total score of 299 to claim the state championship.

The combined team of Amity and Xavier high schools placed second with a total score of 302. Glastonbury netted third with a score of 308.

Greenwich was led by Pavelic, who fired a 73 on the rainy afternoon. Paul Pastore had a stellar outing and finished second on the team with a score of 74. Guise, who fired a 75, finished third on Big Red. Raftery finished the course with a score of 77 and Stephen Pastore took home a total of 81.

When it came to improvements in their game, the Greenwich golfers worked a lot on their short game, knowing how critical that would be at the state finals.

“We talked about how a lot of wedges will be played at the state championship,” Santilli said. “They put the time in during the week and during weekends. They got together as a group and worked on it. Even if they didn’t go out on a course, they practiced at the putting green or chipping area.”

A key to Greenwich’s success this season was its ability to adapt to any situation. While playing on a course when the weather is sunny and 70 degrees is ideal, Santilli said that his team was able to grind out a victory in any condition this spring.

“We shot some of our best scores in the rain,” Santilli said. “A lot of time, bad weather could deter a kid or get him unfocused. When it was raining out during the season, I told them that it might rain out during the state championship, so it was good practice. Sure enough, it poured out for nearly the entire championship and it was pretty cool outside. There were some people that didn’t understand why we went out on some of those days that we went out, but you can’t wait for nice days.”

Throughout the season, Greenwich was led this year by its top two golfers, senior captain Stephen Pastore and junior Danny Guise.

In 15 rounds played, Stephen Pastore fired four rounds under par and had a low score of 2-under par. He also never shot above 40 all season. Guise competed in 13 total rounds and had five that went under par. His lowest score was a 3-under par 33 and he also never shot above 40.

“They were one, two all year and they came in from every match with smiles on their face,” Santilli said. “They rooted each other on. There was competition between them, but that was healthy. They both wanted to be the medalist and pushed each other to do better. When one came in with a 34 and the other came in after with a 33, the person with the higher score wanted to work even harder. It was good.”

Like Stephen Pastore, Pavelic competed in 15 rounds and had three rounds under par. He also netted a season low score of 2-under 34 and had a nine-hole average of 37.3.

Paul Pastore ended the season firing a low score of 35 and was one of five players on GHS to average nine holes below 40, averaging 39.3.

Noah Henderson also had a strong season. Competing in 12 rounds for GHS, his nine-hole average was 42.3 and had a low score of 36. Competing in only six rounds, Raftery made his presence felt. He netted a nine-hole average of 39.3 and had a low score of 1-under par 35.

In addition to Guise’s FCIAC Player of the Year honor, he was named to the All-State Team and All-FCIAC Team. Teammates Stephen Pastore, Pavelic and Paul Pastore also joined Guise with All-State status. Pavelic and Stephen Pastore were also named to the All-FCIAC squad.

This year’s GHS golf team will fire up a debate over which team had the best season in school history, as Santilli believe this year’s group has to be at the top, or very close to it.

“They set every record and the state team differential, we had a record 3.8 handicap as a team,” Santilli said. “That means that it’s less than a one handicap per player if you divide it by four. Our next best was a six or seven a few years ago. This year, the No. 2 team in the state came in at a 10.2 team differential. We were almost seven strokes better for the year than the second best team in the state. Playing wise I think we have four Division I players that were starters for us.”

While the debate continue over which Greenwich team was the best, Santilli knows that, when it comes to coaching, this year’s squad has to be one of the best.

“It was the more fun teams to coach because I knew they were focused all year and that we had goals going in our minds and I didn’t have to address them,” Santilli said. “There was no drama within the squad and it was just going out, playing your game and seeing who can go low.”

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