Boys Golf: Riverhead earns share of league championship

Riverhead High School’s boys golf team was set up to have a tremendous season in 2020, one year after sharing its first league title with Suffolk County League VII co-champion Mattituck. With five of its top six players returning from that 2019 squad, things looked most promising in 2020 — until the coronavirus pandemic and school budget cuts struck.

The 2020 fall sports season in Suffolk was pushed back to this past spring, and then Riverhead sat out that season because of an austerity budget that had no provisions for sports.

That left the Blue Waves with a completely new team this season. Nine players, all first-year varsity players.

What was to be expected from them? That was the big question mark. That was the mystery.

“Coming into this year with no returning varsity players and no golf at all last year, I had no idea what to expect,” said coach Steve Failla.

Well, mystery solved, and it is a bit of a surprise.

Riverhead did quite well for itself, sharing the League VII crown with Mattituck for the second time in three years. The teams defeated each other, 6-3, on their home courses, Cherry Creek Golf Links in Riverhead on Sept. 21 and North Fork Country Club in Cutchogue on Oct. 7, to finish with 9-1 league records.

Who saw that coming?

“It was definitely unexpected as to what we were to accomplish, but I think we did a pretty good job,” senior Logan Swenk said before Riverhead’s 7-2 non-league win over Westhampton Beach last Thursday at Cherry Creek.

Riverhead senior Ryken Kutner said the unexpected nature of the championship made it all the more sweeter. “This year we really had all odds stacked against us because we didn’t have a season last year, so it’s really a big deal for the program,” he said. “It’s really nice.”

Failla said, “To their credit, the momentum that was created prior to the budget going down fortunately was strong enough to, you know, keep it going through the year of [the] austerity budget.”

Riverhead’s top player, senior Matt Caputo, had a team-leading 40.0 nine-hole average in the League VII season. (Credit: Bob Liepa)

Many of the players worked on their games in the offseason, and that made a difference.

Matt Caputo, a senior who missed the opportunity to play on the team with his brother Anthony before Anthony graduated in June, was leading the team with a nine-hole average of 40.0, not too far ahead of eighth-grader Colby Baran’s 40.3 entering last Thursday’s match. Riverhead’s home matches are played on Cherry Creek’s par-36 front nine.

Failla said his Nos. 3-5 spots have been shared by junior Jace Pesce, sophomore Griffin Sumwalt and sophomore Zachary Timpone. Kutner, Swenk, senior John Barry and senior Justin Weber typically contend for the No. 6 spot.

“I know some of these kids,” Caputo said. “I’d play with some of them outside of school golf. They’re all good kids. They all play pretty competitively, especially the top six. I knew we definitely had a chance at doing some damage this year.”

Swenk said: “We were set back with the budget, COVID, you know. Here, no one really expected us to be as good as we definitely are this year. So yeah, that’s pretty cool.”

Riverhead, which reached the final four of the Suffolk team tournament in 2019, clinched a bye as a team into the county individual championship tournament, but Caputo, Baran, Sumwalt, Pesce and Timpone qualified individually.

“I just like how we can be so consistent, like we haven’t really had a bad match,” said Kutner.

Referring to the league title, Kutner said: “It’s a little bit, you know, sour/sweet because we had the chance to just be champions by ourselves. But, you know, you can’t be mad about it because in the end we are champions.”