By Keith Peters
Palo Alto Online Sports
The Castilleja golf team entered this season having won three consecutive West Bay Athletic League championships and having not lost a dual match in over two years. The Gators, however, will not begin next season that same way.
Sacred Heart Prep effectively ended those streaks with a shocking 227-230 victory over Castilleja on Monday on a pristine afternoon at Sharon Heights Golf and Country Club in Menlo Park.
The triumph for SHP (8-1, 9-1) moves it into a tie for first place with Castilleja (8-1) with one match remaining for each team. Sacred Heart will face Harker on Thursday at Los Lagos Golf Course in San Jose while Castilleja hosts Menlo School on Wednesday at Palo Alto Municipal.
To put things into perspective, Menlo defeated Harker on Monday, 261-328.
An expected win by SHP on Thursday will give the Gators a share of the WBAL title, should they finish in a tie with Castilleja. In case of a tie, one of the league's five tiebreakers is used to determine which team gets the automatic Central Coast Section berth. Since SHP won the second meeting of the teams, it gets the berth.
The CCS tournament is set for next month at Rancho Canada East GC in Carmel Valley.
"We haven't won the CCS berth yet," said SHP coach Mark Dowdy. "There's still one more match."
The outcome of that match, however, is a foregone conclusion unless SHP gets stuck in a traffic jam on 101 and has to forfeit.
"The girls were really excited to win, though," Dowdy said of Monday's outcome. "Castilleja is the three-time defending league champion and we've never beaten them in a league contest, so it was a big win for our program."
Castilleja had won 23 straight dual matches before Wednesday and hadn't lost since Oct. 7, 2008, to Harker. The Gators also defeated SHP in their first meeting, 213-239, at Palo Alto Municipal and thus were favored on Monday to wrap everything up once again.
But, as Dowdy said: "I thought we had a team that could compete with Castilleja at Sharon Heights, but thinking it's possible and making it happen are very different. In that way, it was both surprising and satisfying."
Castilleja had everything going for it on Monday, including having one of the best players in CCS in senior Brenna Nelsen. She lived up to her billing once again by firing a 1-under-par 35 to earn medalist honors. She birdied the 383-yard par-4 first hole and the 322-yard par-4 seventh hole. Her only bogey came on the long 522-yard par-5 fifth hole when she drove it through the fairway, hit a tree on her second shot and wound up needing a 50-footer for par, which missed.
Nelsen won her battle with SHP's No. 1, Rachael Henry, who was 1-over with Nelsen through six until picking up two more bogeys on the closing three holes to finish with a fine 39.
Castilleja actually led by seven shots after the first group of players finished. Castilleja senior Sarah Debs shook off a triple-bogey seven on the first hole to finish with a 43. SHP's No. 2, Kennedy Shields, battled back from an ugly eight on the par-3 second hole to shoot 46.
The match, however, was decided in the second group. SHP juniors Shelby Soltau (44) and Michaela Hutter (45) finished 17 shots ahead of Castilleja freshman Caroline Debs (52) and sophomore Taylor Wilkinson (54). That gave SHP a 10-shot lead before the final group finished.
Neither of the two Castilleja players in the second group had shot higher than 48 before Monday's match on the hilly Sharon Heights layout.
Castilleja freshman Ellie Zales had a career round of 46 while playing in the third group, erasing seven strokes off the huge deficit but it still wasn't enough.
"We hadn't had a close match all year," said Castilleja coach Jim Miller. "So, I think this it was a good wake-up call for us."
Barring a disaster by SHP on Wednesday, Castilleja will have to qualify for CCS as a team at next week's WBAL championships on Oct. 27 at Poplar Creek GC in San Mateo. The tourney also will qualify individuals for CCS and beyond.
Castilleja won't have to deal with any hilly conditions like it did Monday, and should win the team crown if it shoots 435 or better -- enough to qualify for an at-large CCS berth.
"If the weather is good," said Miller, "I like our chances of qualifying as an at-large team."