Pictured: Portland’s 2024 Shoreline Conference championship team, left to right: Coach Joe Santavenere, Aidan Peterson, Jonah Lavallee, Giovanni Discenza, Quinn Lapinski and Luke Stennett.

By Paul Augeri
middlesexcountysports@gmail.com

Portland captured the Shoreline Conference championship Tuesday for a fourth straight year and Luke Stennett pocketed his second outright individual title with a birdie at 18 to finish one shot ahead of teammate Quinn Lapinski.

With a four-player total score of 309, the Highlanders bested runner-up Coginchaug by 13 strokes at New Britain’s Stanley Golf Course. Cromwell (338) was third in the 8-team field. Haddam-Killingworth (341) and East Hampton (348) rounded out the top five, followed by Old Saybrook (353), North Branford (356) and Morgan (360).

As expected, Stennett and Lapinski, varsity teammates for four seasons, were right there at the end, as was Coginchaug senior AJ Turman.

Stennett shook off a 4-over start on the front nine (Stanley’s blue course) with four birdies on the back (white course) to finish at 1-over-par 72. Lapinski missed a 4-foot birdie putt at 18 for the tie for a 73. Turman, among the league’s top players this season, shot 74.

“It was definitely a grinding type of day,” said Stennett, whose double-bogey 7 at the ninth hole left him chasing Lapinski and Turman at the turn, putting him in attack mode for the rest of the round.

“Taking the turn into the last nine of my Shoreline career, I wanted to go out in a good fashion,” he said. “Have fun and play the best I can, and I was able to. So it was a bonus.”

Coginchaug sophomore Jake Crocetto finished fourth with a 77. North Branford’s Jack O’Brien and Cromwell’s Dillon Rozich shot 78 to tie for fifth. Rounding out the top 10: Chelsea Woods of East Hampton (81), Tyler Ruel of Valley Regional (82) and Portland teammates Aidan Peterson and Jonah Lavallee, who also shot 82.

Peterson, a junior, and sophomore Lavallee represented the latest wave of depth that has come to define the Highlanders’ championship pedigree this decade.

“It’s nice to see kids like Aidan, who got beaten out for a spot in the Shoreline tournament last year and not play in it, and Jonah, who’s been really steady all year, come in and play well,” Portland coach Joe Santavenere said. “Quinn had a great day, just solid on both nines. He was right there at the end. Him and Luke have been a really special one-two combination for four seasons now.

“But what stuck out to me, generally speaking, for the entire team on the back nine was how they really settled in and dialed in. They finished strong.”

Stennett, who will go on to play at the University of Rhode Island, finished second in the Shoreline tournament as a freshman, shared the title with Coginchaug’s Colin Murphy in 2022 and won it last year.

But he was unfamiliar with Stanley’s blue nine until squeezing in two practice rounds this week (the Shoreline tournament usually is contested on Stanley’s red and white nines).

Stennett carded three bogeys and a birdie before getting to the ninth, where he needed two swings to hack his way out of a bush. The double bogey left him to chase both Lapinski and playing partner Turman.

“I knew I had to work pretty hard to get back into it the way I wanted to,” Stennett said. “I’ve done crazy things (comebacks) before, so I knew I hadn’t taken myself out of it yet.”

He responded with back-to-back birdies at the 492-yard par-5 10th and the 430-yard par-4 11th. After a bogey at 14, Stennett made birdie at 15. After pars at 16 and 17, he drove into the left rough at No. 18, leaving him about 170 yards to the hole.

“I had a flier lie. I’d been getting them all day and I thought this was the worst one,” he said. “I was thinking it’s only 145 to the front if I hit a full gap wedge. I went with it and landed the shot pin high.”

The ball rolled to the back of the green and just into the fringe.

“My eagle putt lipped out from 25 feet, but I made the 2-foot birdie putt,” he said.

With Turman two strokes short of Stennett, Lapinski was his final challenger – and Lapinski, who was in the group behind them, was well aware that he needed an eagle to win outright or a birdie for a piece of the title. The 30-footer for eagle stopped 4 feet left of the cup.

“The 4-footer was a little downhill, a littler slider left to right, and knowing in that moment that I needed a birdie to tie Luke, I was in my own head and not focused,” Lapinski said. “I walked up and hit a good putt, but it slid to the right and horseshoed. I played too much break and it stayed straighter than I thought it would.

“Golf is 90 percent mental. When standing over a putt at lengths like that, and you know you have one to potentially win or tie to win, it’s not even the stroke or the putt. It’s all in your head.”

“I could have shot lower than I did,” he added, “but I don’t mind at all losing to Luke. He’s such a good player.

“Finally playing a good round in this tournament and the win for the team is more fulfilling. It didn’t work out for me, but at least Luke pulled it out for the team. I know my time is coming in states, so I’ll focus and make sure I prepare right.”

For Turman, a series of mistakes and missed putts denied him the opportunity to put pressure on Stennett down the stretch. He started the back nine with pars on 10, 11 and 12

“I couldn’t get any putts to fall on the back nine. Nothing was going my way, really,” he said. “We have two matches before the state tournament, so I’ll try to put it into the past like it never happened and go out there and play my best.”

The CIAC Division III championship will be contested on June 3 at Tallwood in Hebron. Portland and Stennett are the defending champions.

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