BRIGHTON — Winston Lerch and Levi Pennala of Brighton didn’t have much time to grieve when they lost in the state Division 1 hockey championship game for the second straight year on March 11.
The first day of golf practice was two days later, offering Lerch and Pennala another realistic chance of winning a state championship.
The Bulldogs returned all five players from a group that finished third in the state tournament last season, the program’s best finish since 2009.
Brighton dipped a little further back into its history to check off another box Tuesday, winning the Kensington Lakes Activities Association tournament at Kensington Metropark Golf Course.
The Bulldogs followed a 294 in the preseason tournament on April 20 with a 293 in the final event. They won by eight strokes over Northville, who shot 297 and 298.
It was the first conference championship for the Bulldogs since they won the Kensington Valley Conference title in the fall of 2007 at Pierce Lake Golf Course in Chelsea. Current coach James Dewling was a junior on that team.
“It’s a real good benchmark for our program,” Dewling said. “The conference championship has always been on our to-do list. It was a great group of players who got it done today. A nice bounce-back, they battled back. They were under par as a group those final nine holes; that carried the day.”
A conference golf championship just adds to the legacies Lerch and Pennala have created at Brighton. They have been driving forces behind the success of their teams, Lerch making all-state in golf last season and Pennala twice making first-team all-state as a hockey goaltender with one season remaining.
“It’s been awesome,” said Lerch, who shot 71 to tie for first place Tuesday. “I’m very grateful to play for Brighton. I’m glad I came here. Playing in the state championships and playing for things that mean something is really special.”
While golf isn’t Pennala’s primary sport, it was his fifth score that won a tie-breaker that enabled the golf team to head to the state tournament last season.
He came through with a 73 Tuesday playing as Brighton’s fifth golfer, tying for fifth in the field, to help secure the overall championship.
“It’s just super fun to be competitive in everything I do,” Pennala said. “Both teams have done really well. I’ve been fortunate enough to hit the high school at a time when there’s been a supporting cast around me who helped a lot, especially here with the golf team. That was our first championship in conferences since 2007, so we’re really happy to do that. This team has really helped me and we’ve helped each other.”
Although hockey and golf are totally different sports, from the temperatures in which they’re played to the intensity level among competitors, Lerch and Pennala see similarities between their two teams.
“The successful guys are level-headed, they’re gritty and they go out there and get done what needs to get done,” said Lerch, who will play golf at Grand Valley State University.
“Just good team camaraderie,” Pennala said. “We get along really well with everybody. It helps a lot when we’re all just a big group of friends.”
Pennala didn’t play in the preseason KLAA tournament. He was in Minnesota playing for Team Michigan’s junior squad in the CCM NIT tournament. He was eased back into golf upon his return.
“My coach gave me a little break when I got back,” Pennala said. “He let me come back to practice instead of just throwing me right back into a tournament, so that was good. I kind of found my groove pretty quickly and the boys helped me get back in.”
Brighton’s top five golfers placed in the top nine in Tuesday’s round. Lerch tied Novi junior Harshan Juttu for first place with a pair of rounds of 71. Pennala tied for fifth with a 73, junior Riley Morton tied for seventh with a 74, and seniors Andrew Daily and Matt Doyle tied for ninth with 75s.
In the overall KLAA standings, Lerch was second with a 144, Daily was fourth with a 147, Morton tied for sixth with a 150 and Doyle tied for 10th with a 152.
Howell, which tied Novi for first place in the KLAA West dual meet standings at 6-1 for its first division title, shot 322 and finished fourth in the league with a 644. Hartland shot 327 to place fifth with a 655.
Hartland junior Keller King tied for ninth with a 75 and Howell sophomore Zach Spencer tied for 14th with a 76. Spencer tied for sixth in the overall tournament standings with a 150.
With the conference season completed, the focus turns to regionals. Brighton and Howell will play in a Division 1 regional May 31 at Salem Hills Golf Club in Northville, while Hartland will play in a Division 1 regional May 31 at Currie Golf Course in Midland.
“Now is definitely the time to turn it up,” Lerch said. “We had a great day today, but you’re only as good as your next round. We’ve just got to keep it going, focus on the next shot, the next round and go from there.”
KLAA boys golf tournament
1. Brighton 294-293-587; 2. Northville 297-298-595; 3. Novi 304-302-606; 4. Howell 322-322-644; 5. Hartland 328-327-655; 6. Canton 339-319-658; 7. Livonia Stevenson 338-321-659; 8. Salem 329-331-660; 9. Livonia Franklin 334-345-679; 10. Plymouth 357-351-708; 11. Westland John Glenn 378-353-731; 12. Livonia Churchill 375-357-732; 13. Dearborn 385-361-746; 14. Belleville 451-472-923; 15. Wayne Memorial incomplete score.
Ryan Gallagher, Northville, 70-72-142
Winston Lerch, Brighton, 73-71-144
Harshan Juttu, Novi, 75-71-146
Andrew Daily, Brighton, 72-75-147
Gowtham Nalluri, Novi, 72-76-148
Riley Morton, Brighton, 76-74-150
Nick Tokarz, Northville, 78-72-150
Zach Spencer, Howell, 74-76-150
Greg Braun, Northville, 74-77-151
Matt Doyle, Brighton, 77-75-152
Contact Bill Khan at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @BillKhan
This article originally appeared on Livingston Daily: Brighton wins first boys golf league title since 2007 at KLAA tourney