Pena masterful in clutch

AUBURN -- Allyssa Pena found herself in a bad spot on her 19th hole of golf at the Sac-Joaquin Section Masters Girls Golf Tournament on Monday.

The Johansen High senior was staring down a 12-foot par putt on the first hole of a playoff that would decide a berth in the Northern California Regional Girls Golf Championships. The greens at Auburn Country Club had given nearly every golfer fits throughout the day.

“I just had to trust my stroke,” Pena said.

She did, and the ball rolled true, disappearing into the cup. Her playoff opponent, Woodland Christian’s Chelsea Helget, saw her slightly shorter putt slide just past the hole.

After her par, Pena became one of four Stanislaus District golfers to qualify for next Monday’s CIF NorCal Championships at Ripon’s Spring Creek Country Club.

Also advancing Monday:

Bret Harte junior Kirsten Locke had the lowest score of all local golfers. Her 76, which included birdies on Nos. 4 and 5, was one stroke off medalist Candace Chan of McClatchy.

Sierra senior Julie Shutler, who eagled the 427-yard par-5 No. 4 hole, finished with a 77 to become the only Valley Oak League player to reach NorCals.

Turlock senior Emily Szabo, the Central California Conference champ, shot a 78 to advance as the third individual. She was the only CCC golfer to advance.

East Union had the highest local team finish. The VOL champion Lancers hadn’t lost a tournament or dual meet this season; their team score of 488 was good for fifth place. EU junior Krysta Clark led the way with an 89.

After her round, an 81, Pena felt it wasn’t going to be low enough to advance.

“But then the other scores started coming in, and I realized I had a chance,” Pena said. “It was a pleasant surprise.”

A thunderstorm zoomed through the area as the tournament was winding up, dumping lots of rain in a short time as thunder pealed off the surrounding hilltops.

“I look at it this way,” Pena said. “It hailed, and I still ended up with an 81. I’m happy with that.”

Shutler battled the hail as well. After an approach shot onto the green of a later hole in her round, the skies opened, dumping pebbles of ice everywhere.

“I was putting, and all of a sudden the entire green was covered in hail,” Shutler said. “You only have so much time, so I had to find the line through the ice.”

Shutler said the biggest challenge was reading the undulating greens.

“It’s like they were optical illusions,” she said. “I’d read something uphill, and it was downhill. I made that putt through the hail, but I missed some putts that were closer than that.”

Turlock’s Szabo was the next golfer in with a 78.

“The greens were so fast and tricky,” Szabo said. “But I was playing pretty well. We had rain, hail and lightning, but I just kept telling myself to maintain my focus. I did just enough.”