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Mooney golfers eager for state tournament

Staff photo / Neel Madhavan Cardinal Mooney’s Rocco Turner putts as coach Mary Theresa Bellino watches during practice Tuesday. Turner and the Cardinals are gearing up for the state tournament.

YOUNGSTOWN — Cardinal Mooney junior Rocco Turner is no stranger to postseason success in high school golf.

From the sectional tournament, Turner qualified for the northeast district tournament each of the past two years, but hadn’t quite been able to make it to the state tournament after missing out by just two shots last year.

This year, Turner is headed to the state tournament for the first time, and he won’t be alone.

After finishing third at the Division III northeast district tournament at Tannenauf Golf Club last week, the rest of the Cardinals team will be joining him at North Star Golf Club this weekend for the Division III state tournament.

“It was heartbreak the last two years,” Turner said. “But this time we got it done, and now the whole team gets to come, so it’s like a bonus.”

With the top three teams in the district tournament qualifying for states, Mooney (347) squeaked in just under the wire, beating out fourth-place Independence (349) by two shots.

Turner led the way with a 79, which was good enough to finish tied for third in the individual standings, as well. Behind Turner, freshman Alex Eckstein shot an 83, while freshman Dante Turner shot 92, senior Tim Reardon recorded a 93 and senior Joe Zeno shot 115.

“For sectionals, Salem Hills didn’t play very difficult, but it wasn’t easy either. It had some pretty fast greens, but compared to Tannenhauf, (Tannenhauf) just really played tough,” Reardon said. “Going from 315 as a team (at sectionals) to 347 really just shows how difficult it became. The greens were in a heck of a condition and they were tough to hole.

“But I think that’s just going to make us stronger as a team going into states because Tannenhauf did a great job maintaining the course, and being able to go to North Star, we should have an advantage over other teams after playing a course that hard.”

Despite this being her first season leading the boys team, coach Mary Theresa Bellino had plenty to fall back on having also been the Mooney girls team’s coach for several years.

She guided the Mooney girls to states back-to-back years a few years ago and then took an individual to states the year after that, so she knew what it took to get the Mooney boys back to the state level.

“The boys are a little worked up, so my job is to keep them calm,” Bellino said. “I know what to expect down there and what they have to do to be in the top. I’m hoping we can do it. I never predict whether we’re going to win or lose, and I don’t let them predict that either. I always tell them you never know what the day will bring — you never know what club is going to come out of the bag.”

Mooney’s journey to states began early in the summer.

Players like Eckstein and Rocco and his brother, Dante, were playing tournaments on their own all summer long. Then, during dual matches during the regular season, the Cardinals finished with an 11-2 record.

“We’ve been playing well all season long,” Bellino said. “These kids have been working to go to states all year — that’s been our dream.”

Mooney will play a practice round at North Star Thursday before teeing off for round one Friday morning. The Cardinals will start off the back nine Friday, with Zeno teeing off first at 9:50 a.m. Reardon will follow at 10 a.m., while Dante tees off at 10:10 a.m., Eckstein goes off at 10:20 a.m. and Rocco goes at 10:30 a.m. Round two will be played Saturday.

“Coming from last year, not really even being close to making sectionals as a team to this year getting two outstanding freshmen golfers and Rocco coming into his own, we really just developed into a great team,” Reardon said. “Make no mistake, it was always there since the beginning (of the season), but it still feels like a dream that we’re going.”

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