Longmeadow’s Ryan Downes repeats as Div. 1 state golf champion

HAMPDEN – Nobody could keep pace with Longmeadow golf’s superstar, Vanderbilt-commit Ryan Downes, on his way to repeating as the Div. 1 state championship medalist with a 4-under 68 on the chilly rolling hills at GreatHorse on Tuesday afternoon.

But after finishing as runner-up in last year’s championship, no individual on St. John’s of Shrewsbury had to in order to achieve what they really wanted.

Behind a well-balanced effort that saw five of their top six golfers shoot under 80, the Pioneers fulfilled their quest for their first state title since 2012 with a 303 score. Senior Nic Gebhardt and Ronan Mooney each shot a three-over 75 to lead the way, comfortably beating out second-place St. John’s Prep (314) and third-place Xaverian (315).

Considering the program’s seven titles before head coach Sean Noonan’s tenure began 10 years ago, it’s an extra special feeling to finally get over the hump.

“It’s a dream season, really,” Noonan said. “Last year came that close. We’ve had two seconds, two thirds. … I’m super excited for all these guys. This thing will never be taken away, we get to go and put it up in the rafters in the gym.”

“It’s just a surreal feeling, it’s been three years coming,” Gebhardt added. “We got fourth my sophomore year, second last year. We only had one more place to keep going up. We got that done today.”

Playing in the same group as Downes, it took Gebhardt a resilient effort to finish tied for the third-best score with Mooney, Wellesley’s Ryan Keyes and Hingham’s Carson Erick.

After a third bogey on the 10th hole put him at 5-over, Gebhardt made par on the next four holes, birdied on holes 15 and 16, and shot even on the final two holes.

“It was a lackluster round but it got the job done,” he said. “It’s all about the mental space of staying in it because every shot counts in this.”

It was just one part of a team-wide effort, as Savar Bhashin shot a 76, while Cael Duggan and Curtis McDonald each shot a 77. Veer Bhashin’s 83 even beat out 49 other golfers.

“We’re a deep team,” Noonan said. “There’s 13 kids there, and any one of them could’ve been in the top six. … I couldn’t have asked for a better group of guys, really. It’s really cool. It’s really cool what we’ve done as a program.”

Even with a three-putt bogey on the third hole, it was smooth sailing per usual for Downes – especially on his 18th birthday on a course he plays regularly at.

Only once did he feel that played a major advantage, when on Hole 4h, he used a big backstop to help him immediately rebound from the bogey with a birdie. With birdies on 2, 7 and 9 as well, he rode momentum into a 3-under 33 on the front nine. Two more birdies helped him get as low as 5-under through 14, eventually finishing three strokes better than runner-up Ilan Rashdan (Westford Academy).

“It’s a cool accomplishment, I was kind of happy with how I played today,” Downes said. “I made a couple mistakes, especially one on the 18th coming down the stretch so it got a little close. But I’m definitely happy to be the back-to-back champ.”

Rashdan (one-under 71) failed to make par or birdie just once. Terry Manning (76) and Seamus O’Holleran (77) led St. John’s Prep, while Connor Walsh (77) led Xaverian. North Andover’s Brendan Burke, Natick’s Kaushal Karupakula and Barnstable’s Chad Tordone each shot a 76 to round out the individual top 10.

St. John’s of Shrewsbury won its eighth Div. 1 state title, but first in over a decade. (Tom Mulherin photo)

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