Yamawaki sizzles as LCC boys top Torrey Pines for Avocado West crown

LCC senior Kento Yamawaki after his six-under par performance led LCC past Torrey Pines.
(Ken Grosse)

Keyed by the dazzling play of senior Kento Yamawaki, the La Costa Canyon boys golf team defeated three-time defending champion Torrey Pines, 179-183, to win the 2019 Avocado West League title Thursday at La Costa Golf Resort.

LCC, which was beaten handily by Torrey Pines just nine days ago at Rancho Santa Fe Golf Club, creating a tie atop the Avo West standings, turned the tables on the Falcons on their home course. Although both teams have section and state aspirations, there was little doubt as to the importance of Thursday’s triumph.

“For this senior class and what they’ve accomplished (two-time defending CIF Division II champs), it says a lot that winning this league title was a big, big goal, even though it meant beating the defending state champions,” said Head Coach Casey Sovacool, who missed the match following the birth of his first child, son Rivers, the night before. “While the Avocado West may not be the ultimate goal for either of these teams, if you go to school at La Costa Canyon or Torrey Pines, the first goal is always to beat the other team.”

LCC team
2019 Avocado West League champions (l to r)--Matt Pennington, Josh Rooker, Landon Elliott, Kento Yamawaki, Avery Schmidt and Jonas Appel. Ken Grosse

The winner of the 2016 CIF Division II individual championship as a sophomore, Yamawaki carded a brilliant a nine hole, six-under par 30, scrambling for pars on the day’s first two holes before going on a tear that included four birdies and nifty eagle on the par 5 seventh hole. The normally stoic Yamawaki admitted to welling up on the final green when teammate Matt Pennington mouthed “we won” to him from just off the putting surface as he stood over an eagle putt that would have given him a 29. The emotions were still running high well after the match concluded.

“This has been a goal since my freshman year and we’d lost all seven dual matches before today—I’m kind of speechless right now,” said the 5-foot-7, 17-year-old. “But we knew if we competed together, we could beat them on our home turf and I kind of figured Torrey Pines might let their guard down because they beat us by a lot last week.”

Seniors Josh Rooker (36), Avery Schmidt (38) and Pennington (38), along with freshman Jonas Appel (37), provided ample reinforcements for Yamawaki. Junior Justin Biwer and senior Alex Conley paced Torrey, shooting 35 and 36 respectively, while junior Caden Fioroni, the medalist at the previous match between the two squads, turned in a 37.

As for his own exploits, the Cal-bound Yamawaki didn’t have an explanation. “I got off to a shaky start but once I birdied the third hole, I got into a zone and was just firing at pins,” he said. “I almost holed out at five, eagled seven and almost eagled nine—I don’t really know what happened.” Sovacool, on the other hand, had no trouble expanding on the exceptional characteristics that define his star player.

“I’ve coached three sports, had an 18-year high school career and Kento Yamawaki is the best student-athlete I’ve ever coached,” said Sovacool. “His leadership has been so important to this group and he’s got the skill set to back it up. He’s meant everything to our program—today he wanted to win so bad and told me to put him in the final group because he knew his score could count at the end.

“The kid’s a rock star. He’s a stone cold killer on the course but an absolute sweetheart off it.”

And now, he’s got a win over arch rival Torrey Pines to add to his laurels. Both teams head next to the CIF Championships (Torrey Pines in Division I and La Costa Canyon in Division II), May 13 and 15 at Admiral Baker Golf Course in San Diego.

Mark Pennington
Maverick senior Matt Pennington Ken Grosse
Alex Conley
Senior Alex Conley was the second-leading scorer for Torrey Pines. Ken Grosse
Freshman Go
Freshman Go Nakatsukasa blasts out of the sand. Ken Grosse

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