Hampton pair take swing at WPIAL golf championships

Saturday, September 30, 2023 | 11:01 AM

Hampton teammates Matt Erka and Tyler Schmitt took different paths to reach the 2023 WPIAL Class 3A individual golf championships.

Erka punched his ticket by shooting a no-doubt 3-over 75 at the Section 8-3A qualifiers Sept. 19 at Pheasant Ridge, while Schmitt needed a pair of round-saving shots on the 18th hole to barely make the cut and advance.

The opening round of the WPIAL championships Sept. 25 at Latrobe Country Club wasn’t as kind to the Talbots.

Schmitt shot 16-over 88 and finished tied for 67th out of 96 golfers, and Erka was 22-over 94 and tied for 87th. The top 36 advanced to the WPIAL Class 3A individual finals Oct. 2 at Valley Brook.

Erka, who had also reached the WPIAL championships as a sophomore, struggled to a round of one birdie, three pars, six bogeys, six double-bogeys and two triple-bogeys.

“Everything was going wrong for me,” he said. “I couldn’t find a groove for myself. One hole I would have a good tee shot, and the next shot I’d miss the green from 120 yards out. The next hole I’d have a poor tee shot and a good iron shot. My putting was really bad. I think I missed five or six 3- or 4-footers. Nothing was really falling for me.”

Erka, who averaged 41 per nine holes this season, shined at the qualifiers. He finished tied for sixth with the best round he’s ever shot at Pheasant Ridge. He overcame a bad drive on No. 2 to save par — “It had to take the ball over the trees and try to put it on the green” — and birdied the par-4 No. 12 with a 15-foot putt.

“I put everything together, especially on the back nine,” said Erka, a senior, who was even-par on the final nine holes to easily eclipse the target score of 82. “Everything was just going the way I wanted it to, and that’s kind of how it played out with my score.”

Schmitt, a junior, entered No. 18 at sectional qualifiers knowing he needed a bogey — at worst — to finish with an 82 and secure his first invite to the WPIAL championships. He hit his drive to the left out of bounds and took a penalty stroke. But his 145-yard approach shot reached the short fringe and he chipped to within a foot for a tap-in bogey and an 18-hole score of 82.

“There was a little bit of pressure,” Schmitt said. “I made it on the dot. (Reaching the WPIALs) is a goal that I’ve been trying to do for a while.”

Erka was part of an experienced Talbots roster this season. Coach Bruce Steckel’s team also included seniors Peter Kramer, Robert Coll, Avish Vyas, Andrew Bagnato, James Elk, Gavin Hamlin and Samantha Shaughnessy.

The Talbots finished 4-6 in the six-team Section 8-3A. They swept Highlands and split with North Catholic and Shady Side Academy. Narrow losses to NC (197-198) and SSA (207-209) prevented a winning record in the section.

The highlight of a difficult nonsection schedule was a 194-196 victory over Mars. The Talbots missed chances with narrow losses to Pine-Richland (204-205) and Butler (190-194). They brought a 5-10 overall record into the Sept. 28 season finale against Peters Township.

“It was definitely fun,” Erka said. “I had a great time every single time we went out there. We tried our best. The record really doesn’t show, but I had a really fun time.”

Schmitt, who averaged 39.6 per nine holes, was the only non-senior on the nine-player roster. He will return next season to lead the Talbots and seek a return bid to the WPIAL individual championships.

Erka, a 6-foot-2, 165-pound right-handed pitcher/outfielder, will start to get ready for Talbots’ baseball season. He said he won’t linger on his rough day at the WPIAL golf tournament.

“It’s a little bit disappointing,” he said. “But that’s golf. One day you shoot a 75, and the next you shoot a 94.”


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