Pictured: Coach Mike Kohs and his Division I champion Xavier golfers, left to right: Gavin Coletti, Bennett Cedillo, Brady Pill, CJ Giuliano, John Thompson and JB Ouellette. (Photo provided by Xavier)

By Paul Augeri

Talk about a finishing touch.

The Xavier golf team’s remarkable season concluded last week with senior captain CJ Giuliano and junior star Brady Pill combining to shoot 4 under par combined on the final two holes of the CIAC Division I tournament at Fairview Farm. When final scores in the field were calculated, the Falcons had their second state championship and first-ever undefeated season.

Giuliano sank consecutive birdie putts at 17 and 18 and Pill provided the shot of the day at 18, a straightaway uphill par-5 playing 510 yards from the whites with trees lining each side of the fairway.

Choosing 4-iron from 190 yards, he nearly holed out for double eagle (an albatross!), the ball rolling on a line with the cup and lipping out the backside. He tapped in for a 3 — and there you have it, an even-par 72 for Pill and a four-shot victory for the Falcons over Bristol Central.

“It was a solid year, a great year,” longtime coach Mike Kohs said. “All year long the kids would look at the (2017) championship plaque in our trophy case. It’s hard to compare teams, because we had guys like Chris Fosdick and Kevin Lynch back then. But this team had goals and they accomplished every goal we had. They were very good all year. It was an amazing season and a very fun ride back from the course.”

Kohs utilized the Falcons’ superior lineup to maximum effect from April to June. Xavier won all 13 regular-season matches and two inseason tournaments and was co-champs of the Southern Connecticut Conference title with Notre Dame of West Haven.

“It was a great team effort throughout the entire season,” he said. “Obviously you have five that play in a match, but we were a pretty deep team. I used 10 different players in at least three varsity matches throughout the year. And our JV team was 10-0.”

At Fairview Farm, Pill earned All-State honors with his top-five finish. Giuliano and sophomore Bennett Cedillo shot 76 to finish in a five-way tie for eighth. Senior John Thompson carded a 77 (T-13) for a total of 301 strokes – the best score of the 53 spring teams across three CIAC divisions.

It took the Falcons a good deal of homework to play as well as they did on the Harwinton course. Interestingly, a Xavier team hadn’t played Fairview since the 2017 team won the school’s first state title – also with a score of 301.

“We went up there two weeks ago and played 18 holes. And the kids didn’t just play, they mapped out the course,” Kohs said. “It’s a different course. There are a lot of par 4s that require smart plays and irons off the tee. It’s a little bit of target golf, and our guys did it. They had yardage books. They were writing notes down. They talked about playing the ball from a particular spot.

“On Monday, two days before the tournament, they played nine holes. A couple of other teams were there, too, and the kids noticed some were hitting driver on certain holes. That’s when they thought, ‘if, we play it smart and play it strategically, we hope it would give us a little bit advantage.

“They played the course the way it needed to be played and played it beautifully.”

Kohs has been Xavier’s basketball coach for two decades and knows a thing or two about getting players ready to play.

“You have to prepare to give yourself a chance to win,” he said, “whether it’s basketball game-planning or scouting an opponent. Golf requires prep work. You’re playing the course. You can’t control your opponent, only yourself. You’ve got to make smart decisions, especially at a course like Fairview Farms. It’s all about course management and our kids were great with it. They stuck to it and it paid dividends.”

Pill and Giuliano locked in as Kohs’ Nos. 1 and 2 throughout the season and were frequent medalists. Thompson at No. 3 had his share of nine-hole scores in the 30s, while Cedillo was as steady as a sophomore can be. For Thompson, traditionally a slow starter, it was another strong close to a season.

“Midseason on he started to play very well,” Kohs said. “We counted on him to have great scores every match. It seemed like he struggled a little bit out there in the state tournament hitting the ball, but John scrambled very well and had a good short game.”

Kohs also emphasized the contributions of senior JB Ouellette, the youngster Cedillo and Gavin Coletti. Although Ouellette’s 80 (T-29) at Fairview was not included in the Falcons’ team score, it was a score that, had one of the other four faltered down the stretch, would have kept Xavier in contention for the title.

Cedillo’s scoring consistency, especially over the long haul, was valuable, as was the leadership of Coletti, a senior and potential alternate player who was always at the ready if needed.

“He’s not shooting a high number, at worse 81 or 82,” Kohs said. He played a super 76 – no birdies, mostly pars, and tee to green he was very consistent. With JB, he helped us on the back nine after dropping back a little bit. We were still there near the top of the board because he hunkered down.”

Pill’s round of 72 was three shots behind champion Cameron St. Pierre of Shelton (he went on to shoot 76 at the State Open three days later at Mohegan Sun Golf Course, tying for 14th).

“We played super golf probably the last five holes – all five guys,” Kohs said. “No mistakes. For CJ to make birdie at 17 … a dogleg right, 7-iron off tee and a little wedge in. And at 18, back up the hill. He was on in two, had a great lag putt and tapped in for birdie.

“Back with Brady at 18, it was once more a key shot. I thought if he put the ball anywhere in play off the tee that we should be in good shape. For that second shot the pin was right up front and the ball lands on and rolls right at the hole. The kids there were saying ‘it’s going in!’ The little tap-in for eagle put the capper on it.”

Kohs loved this ’24 version of the Falcons. And he returns Pill as one of the top players in the state, with Cedillo and a bunch of underclassmen who had success as up and comers.

“These players seemed like they never put any pressure on themselves,” he said. “Last year they said ‘we can win it!’ They were loose and a great group of kids. The camaraderie and trust they showed and displayed at practice, guys sharing course information with others, it was just a fun group to be around. They got along well together and I think that helps. Just a special team.”

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