James Blackwell felt exhausted, and looked it. He lagged behind his competitor after most shots and sometimes stopped to put his hands on his knees as he fought tired legs and temperatures in the 80s while surpassing his 150th hole of golf this week.
He could manage to stomach only a Starburst candy and Gatorade between rounds Thursday, but his tee shots were still rocketed and his approaches were destined for the pin. The tournament's stroke play medalist from North Tonawanda and St. Joe's defeated Sam Hebert of Ontario in the International Junior Masters quarterfinals, 4 and 3.
While the heat drained Blackwell mentally, it may have helped him avoid mind games and just play.
"The first round I was thinking a little too much, trying to have the perfect swing. The second round, I was just too tired to think," he said. "It was just swing smooth and try to hit the fairway and try to hit the green. The iron shots were much better and ball striking was much better."
Blackwell, by his own admission, still isn't sure how to go about match play.
"Do you play the course like you do in stroke play, or do you play the individual?" Blackwell asked rhetorically after his first round. "I have no idea."
He chose riskier shots in his morning round and ended up needing all 18 holes to edge Eduardo Rivera of Colombia (1 up), saying after that Rivera deserved to win. In his second round, Blackwell got up by several holes early and played well enough the rest of the way to hold on to the lead.
"He's a really nice guy and good player, really keeps the pressure on you," Hebert said "Fairways, green, [everything]. You can't really let up when you're playing James."
Blackwell led by three holes at the turn and pushed his lead to four before conceding his first hole of the match on No. 12, only after hitting into a hazard. While irons were his strong spot on the day, he stole the momentum back by sinking a 30-foot putt on his second shot of the par-3 13th.
Hebert won 14 but Blackwell was still in position to take the match by winning 15. Instead of sitting back with his lead — especially after Hebert's tee shot went way to the right — Blackwell remained aggressive.
"You can't [sit back]. That never works," he said. "I've tried that before and it failed miserably, multiple times. You have to keep trying to make birdies. Like the last hole, he was in the trees, and the smart play would have been to hit left; I went for the pin. You have to still keep going and take your chances."
Josh Stauffer, a St. Bonaventure commit from Bradford, Pa. who set the tournament record in medal play Wednesday with a 65, was defeated in the morning round Thursday by Joey Savoie of Quebec on the 19th hole.
In the consolation flight, Canisius High School's Jacob Kreuz won his morning match, 3 and 2, over Doug Uhazie of Rochester before beating Josh Whalen of Ontario in the afternoon, 4 and 3. He'll play another Ontario golfer in Luke Atack today. Depew's Andrew Romano was beaten by Colombian Eduardo Roa, 3 and 2.
Blackwell tees off this morning against David Marin of Colombia in the semifinals. Savoie plays Matt Van Niekirk in the other semifinal.