That sophomore slump seems so long ago for Ben Reichert.
The brimming-with-confidence junior from Williamsville North pushed last year further back into the junk drawer by a field of 68 in winning the Section VI boys golf championship Monday.
On a breezy, warm day at River Oaks Golf Club on Grand Island, Reichert was the only golfer to break par as he fired a 3-under 105 for 27 holes. He fired a 69 during the first 18 holes to take a four-shot lead into the final nine. He won by five shots as Randolph’s Nolan Ditcher and Chautauqua Lake/Westfield’s Cody Lattimer each recorded 110, with Ditcher earning runner-up honors via match of cards.
“I expected to play well,” said Reichert, who just last week won a New York State Junior PGA event in Cooperstown and two weeks ago won another tournament at Mendon Golf Club. “I just played solid and didn’t make any mistakes. … I just felt really confident. I’ve been playing well.”
That wasn’t the case last year when he missed qualifying for the state tournament after earning one of nine spots as an eighth-grader and freshman.
North coach John Burns said the path toward Reichert’s breakthrough season began when he failed to qualify for the state tournament. Burns said he really went to work, determined not to let that happen again.
The extra work Reichert put into his game paid dividends during the fall when he set the North record for lowest nine-hole round (4-under 32) and capped it by winning the ECIC championship.
Reichert is the first ECIC golfer to win the league and sectional tournaments since Orchard Park’s David Patronik during the 2001-02 season.
“It’s pretty cool,” Reichert said. “I expected it but at the same time, it feels good. … Hopefully I can make a run at states and hopefully win.”
Burns said the only other golfer at North he’s coached whose work ethic mirrors that of Reichert’s was Jake Katz.
“Those two have been the shining stars of the Williamsville North golf program since I’ve been coach,” Burns said. “Ben has exceeded expectations both locally and nationally with his golf game. He just doesn’t have a weak link in his game at all. … He plays fearless golf now and he has a calmness you don’t often see in a high school golfer even when things go bad.”
Things didn’t go too badly for Reichert on Monday as he offset two bogeys with five birdies during his opening 18.
He birdied his first hole on the final nine with the only hiccup being a bogey on his third-to-last hole.
By then, it was pretty obvious who was going to be medalist.
Reichert said he didn’t do too well his first two state tournament appearances at Cornell University’s Robert Trent Jones course, but the East Tennessee State commit is determined to change that, especially now that he’s going into states as a Section VI champion.
“There’s nine sections and the best from each section represents their section in a way,” Reichert said. “I definitely think I’m ready to make a run.”
He will have a couple teammates on the bus to Ithaca as two other Spartans were among the nine to qualify for the state tournament May 31 and June 1.
Sophomore Mike Wells earned his way onto the team by firing a back-nine 38 to finish with a 118. Mike Kessler, who’s also a favorite to qualify for states in tennis, earned a shot at the state golf title by firing a 116 – including a back-nine 37.
Kessler begins play in the four-day Section VI tennis tournament today.
“I’m happy,” said Kessler on being halfway home toward achieving his goal of qualifying for both tournaments. “I played well, worked hard for it.”
The state tennis tournament runs May 28-30 in New York City. In the event Kessler can’t make it to state golf by the last practice round for the event on May 30, first alternate J.P. Rehak of Williamsville South will take Kessler’s place.
Rehak won a four-way playoff for the alternate spot by parring the first hole of sudden death.
Others who qualified for the states include Ditcher, Lattimer, Lancaster’s Bradley Belote (112), Williamsville East’s Chris Yustin (115), Hamburg’s Ian Wilson (116) and Orchard Park’s Eric Spitz (119).
Reichert, Ditcher, Spitz and Belote have state tournament experience with Belote, a senior, making states for the first time since his freshman season.