Playing on a team with two of the Washington area's top golfers, quiet and steady Chantilly sophomore Gabe Lainez has been easy to overlook. Yesterday, in the Virginia AAA Northern Region championship, he was also quite clutch as his standout teammates watched from greenside.
After Westfield All-Met Zach Spees made two sensational birdies to force a sudden-death playoff, Lainez made consecutive pars to win at the par-72 Brambleton Golf Course in Ashburn.
After Lainez tapped in his winning putt, it was a role reversal as Jake An and Joe Monte were among the Chargers rushing out to congratulate the reserved Lainez.
"When anybody talks to us, they want to talk about Jake and Joe, but we have a team," Chantilly co-coach Scott Cronin said. "We don't have a number one or a number two or a number three."
Maybe not, but only because the Chargers have such terrific players. Monte was 1 over par for the two-day tournament to finish third. An was fourth at 2 over. As a team, Chantilly shot 592 to beat defending champion Westfield by 13 strokes.
For most of the year, Lainez was in a supporting role as An and Monte consistently turned in spectacular rounds. After matching Spees with a 71 in the tournament's first round, though, Lainez earned a spot in yesterday's final group. And while he made the turn 3 over for the round and three strokes behind Spees, he quickly turned things around, with three birdies in five holes.
Spees had to make a 40-foot birdie on No. 17 and then chipped within three feet and made a birdie putt on No. 18 to tie Lainez with a second round of 72. Not that either knew what was happening at the time: Each thought the other had won in regulation.
Spees made a terrific recovery on the first playoff hole after his drive kicked right into the rough behind a berm and both made par. On the second playoff hole, Spees caught a tough break as his long drive found a bunker, leaving a tough lie that opened things for Lainez, who calmly two-putted for the victory.
"Winning this regional championship is really nice, it makes me feel better about my game," Lainez said. "Spees is really good, he's one of the better players I've played with."
Chantilly and Westfield advanced to the state tournament in two weeks, along with the top six individuals from other teams: Tom Adrounie of W.T. Woodson, Danny Bosse of Loudoun Valley, Myles Chopra of Oakton, Scott Juhl of West Springfield, John Buchanan of Robinson and Matt Wallace of Stone Bridge.
"Everyone is waiting for a state championship," Lainez said. "In my opinion, I think we have a good chance of winning state, but there are other good high school teams out there too."