Written by Dennis Mahoney.
One by one the members of the Evanston boys golf team whipped out their cell phones to take photos of the team scorecard Tuesday at the Winnetka Park District golf course.
It was almost as if, to a man, the Wildkits couldn’t believe just how well they had played at the Class 3A New Trier Regional tournament.
Now they’ve got the photographic proof after earning Evanston’s first regional championship since 1996 and making a little history of their own.
Coach Jed Curtis’ squad scored a decisive victory over long-time nemesis and state power New Trier --- and on the Trevians home course --- with a team score of 302. Runnerup New Trier (309) and Loyola Academy (314) also earned team qualifying berths for next Monday’s sectional tournament at Old Oak Golf Course in south suburban Homer Glen.
Evanston’s Jake Casati and Jackson Mihevc tied for third place individually with 75s. Henry Gruger and Sam Knepper both carded 76s to tie for sixth place. They combined to put a program that can count the number of regional championships in its entire school history on one hand, over the top.
“It’s so exciting for these guys, because they’ve been knocking on the door and never gave up hope when it came to beating New Trier,” Curtis said. “We’ve been fighting all year to put together four solid scores at the same time, and today they did it.
“Every year when we get a little better as a team, it seems like New Trier just gets that much better. All they seem to do is reload. But after playing them close in the dual meet and at the conference tournament , we knew we could do this. One of our goals this year was to win a tournament and we hadn’t done it until today.
“We were frustrated Saturday when we shot a 323 here (at the New Trier Invitational on the same course) because that was one of our worst rounds of the year. But it also focused us, I think. We know there are no guarantees in the state playoffs, and we wanted to do this when it really mattered.”
“This means a lot to us,” said Mihevc, “but I think everyone here will tell you that it will mean more next Monday (at the sectional), even if we finish third. And if we can get to State as a team, that will really mean a lot.
“We know we have the skill to beat New Trier and Loyola and today we really just had to beat the players from there we were playing against. And I definitely feel like we can do it again. We just had to be consistent across the board today, and we got some huge help from our sixth man, Sam Knepper.”
Mihevc knew the Kits had a serious shot at the crown when he crossed paths with teammate Knepper late in the round.
“I saw Sam on the 11th hole and he was just one over at that point,” Mihevc recalled. “I just told him to keep it going, that it was just what we needed. I had a lot of confidence in him.”
Mihevc contributed three of his own four birdies on the back nine, where he finished at a one-under-par 35. That more than made the difference even when Knepper staggered down the stretch with four straight bogeys.
“I wasn’t exactly too clutch there down the stretch, but I’ll take that 76,” Knepper grinned after firing his lowest 18-hole round of the season. “I’m pretty happy with my round, and it’s amazing as a team that we could get all of those 75s and 76s. I really hit a lot of greens today, and that’s usually been my weakness. I birdied No. 2 (with a 15-foot putt) and on No. 4 I was in the bunker, but I came back and made a putt for bogey and that was big for me. I also snaked in a putt from about 30 or 35 feet on No. 8.
“I’m really, really excited to beat New Trier. After Saturday we knew we had to buckle down and really focus, really take this seriously. Coach Curtis sent us the video of the ‘Any Given Sunday’ football speech by Al Pacino to motivate us, and it really worked for me.”
Casati, who has been Evanston’s most consistent performer all fall, came through for the Kits again Tuesday.
“I think it’s huge to be part of this, to win the regional for our school,” Casati said. “We’ve been so close to New Trier this year and we’ve just been waiting for this to happen. And to make it happen to them on their home course is just huge!
“I hit my irons close today and I also putted well. I didn’t have any 3-putts. I had three birdies (No. 2, No. 10 and No. 12) and my iron play is what’s really making the difference for me this year. I worked a lot on ball striking and ball control over the summer, and now I’m hitting a lot more greens than I used to.”
Mihevc and Casati tied for third behind Loyola’s Michael Abrahamson and New Trier’s Will Connelly, who both shot 73s. Abrahamson claimed medalist honors in a three-hole playoff.