Thursday's Division III district golf tournament was one of redemption for the John F. Kennedy boys golf team.
After a scorecard error led to a disqualification in last year's district that cost the Eagles a spot at state, Kennedy shot 329 to defeat St. Thomas Aquinas by five strokes and win the district at the par-72, 6,600-yard Seven Hills Country Club course in Hartville.
This will be Kennedy's first trip to state as a team since 2007 and the first trip for any members of this year's team.
The Division III state tournament will be held Friday, Oct. 12, and Saturday. Oct. 13 at North Star Golf Resort in Sunbury.
"It was a total team effort; I can say that about 10 times," fifth-year Kennedy coach Jim St. George said. "Our No. 1 Ryan Fowler had a tough day. He shot 86, which is 12 strokes over his average. Our No. 2 man Billy Phillips stepped up and shot a 72 to put us in the hunt.
"At the turn we were leading with a 163, Gilmour Academy had 167 and St. Thomas Aquinas shot 169, which were the top three teams. It was a close match at the turn. As the finish came in Ryan was still struggling. I caught him at (hole) 15 and told him he's been carrying us all year and it's time for the team to have his back. We got a 329 total for the match. Which was a satisfying wait after last year."
The top two teams and two individuals advanced to state. Defending D-III state champion Gilmour Academy was third with 337.
Andrew Bieber of Gilmour Academy shot a 74 and Luke Janci of Leetonia had an 80 to advance.
As for Kennedy, Phillips was the medalist of the tournament with an even-par 72, followed by James Lapolla's 80, Fowler had an 86 and Daniel Lapolla and Stephen Macali each shot 91.
"It feels great," Phillips said of making state. "We finally get to go to state after last year. We were so close and get to go now."
Both Phillips and St. George said Phillips had a very good round.
"On No. 9 I did pretty well," said Phillips, a junior. "I putted to 2 feet and made birdie and had back to back birdies on 16 and 17 which helped a lot."
"Very outstanding, very comfortable," St. George said. "He drove the ball very well and had a couple birdies. His only three putt was on the last hole. It was a fantastic round for Billy.
"He ended up having birdies on 16 and 17. Sixteen was a great birdie and was one of the few fairways he missed. He sank a 20-footer for birdie."
In last year's district tournament, James Lapolla submitted an incorrect scorecard which led to his disqualification. Instead of counting his 76, which would have had the Eagles second to Gilmour, Kennedy was forced to take a 91 from another player and failed to qualify for state. St. George said Lapolla's act of sportsmanship has been rewarded this year.
"James Lapolla has a chance to go to state his senior year," St. George said. "What goes around comes around and James did the right thing. To persevere like he did deserves another chance."
While none of this year's team members have played the North Star course before, St. George and Phillips said it shouldn't be much of a problem for the Eagles to become acclimated to it.
"I don't know anything about it yet but when we get down there we'll get a feel for it," Phillips said.
"The key is to shoot a good number," St. George said. "It would be tough to come back after a bad first day.
"It's going to be long and open. I'd like to compare it to Kensington. We'll get our first look on (next) Thursday in a practice round and make adjustments from there. I think they match up to it very well. My boys can match up to almost any conditions. We'll get a practice round in and then know how to play it."