Matt Winton wanted no part of Western Athletic Conference title talk ahead of Tuesday’s WAC Championships.
Sure, his Livingston High School girls golf team averaged a 100-plus stroke advantage over the rest of the league during its perfect run through the regular season and the Midseason Tournament. And, admittedly, it probably would have taken an act of nature and maybe a couple disqualifications, plus the rest of the league to finish in a specific order, for the Wolves to lose by a single point.
The Livingston supporters even had to keep the championship shirts they printed hidden from the Wolves coach. As long as that miniscule chance existed, Winton was taking nothing for granted. Seven straight second-place finishes will do that to a coach.
His squad left no doubt. Led by Lexi Gonzalez’s 90, Livingston fought through a windy afternoon at Rancho Del Rey to shoot a conference title-clinching 495 total. The Wolves had five of the top eight finishers and beat second-place Los Banos (624) by 129 strokes. Ceres finished third with a 642, and Pacheco (706) took fourth. Patterson and Central Valley didn’t have enough players to field a team score.
Ceres ended up second in the final standings and will join Livingston on Monday at the Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV Tournament, also at Rancho Del Rey. The top six finishers not from those schools will also advance. That group includes Los Banos’ Morgan Pimentel, who won the individual title with an 86, and teammates Morgan Kanemoto (131) and Victoria Brasil (124); Patterson’s Tatianna Tafoya (105) and Emma Hansen (116); and Pacheco’s Adri Rodriguez (126).
“Being a coach as long as I have, you stay away from all that stuff until it’s all said and done, and then we’ll enjoy it,” Winton said of his superstitions. “This means a lot. Every group is special, but this group is really special to have all six girls for two years in a row. We’ve finished second to a lot of good teams over the years, and we’ve advanced to divisionals and gotten to experience that, but after a while, you start to question if it’s actually ever going to happen.
“We had a good feeling coming into the year, so it’s good to see it through.”
The Wolves did that and then some, showcasing the balance that has been their key to success all season.
Livingston was the only team with more than one player to crack 100. Annie Winton was just behind Gonzalez with a 95, while Monica Garcia and Angelica Rice shot a 98 and 99. Marisol Padilla rounded out the quintet with a 113, good for eighth overall.
“After the past seven years of finishing second, it feels great to finally finish first,” Gonzalez said. “Especially my senior year and leaving the team. We have such a great group of girls; we really deserve it.
“It was really windy. It pushed everything hard to the left. That seemed to help some girls out and kind of made some girls worry a little bit, but we’ve played enough to know how to work the wind. ”
About the only thing that didn’t go Livingston’s way Tuesday was the individual crown. Gonzalez and Pimentel battled at the Midseason Tournament as well, with the Los Banos junior pulling out a four-stroke victory in both.
The wind eased over the course of the afternoon but was gusting when the lead group started at 11 a.m. It seemed to take its toll on the front nine in particular. Pimentel admitted to being one of the individuals who struggled to adjust to Mother Nature, shooting a 49 on the front nine. She quickly adjusted, shooting a 1-over 37 on the back half.
“I wasn’t too happy with the front, but there’s 18 holes and you just have to put the first nine behind you,” Pimentel said. “I wasn’t really used to the wind on the front but got a little more used to it on the back and was able to turn things around.
“It’s definitely an advantage having the divisional tournament here. I’ve gotten to play this course a number of times during the regular season and obviously the Midseason Tournament and today. I’ve had some success and I’m feeling pretty confident going in.”