The Illinois High School Association did the Evanston boys golf program a favor by steering it away from State powers New Trier, Glenbrook North and Loyola Academy when the Class 3A regional tournament assignments were handed out.

And the Wildkits capitalized on that opportunity Wednesday at the Wilmette Golf Club.

For the first time since 2013, Evanston Township High School qualified a full team for sectional competition after placing second in the Niles West Regional with a score of 342. Juniors Jamie Young (81) and Jack Clair (86) paced ETHS to a team score that may seem pedestrian compared with the low totals turned in at other regionals, but no one was more satisfied to see his team keep their season alive than Evanston head coach Jed Curtis.

After years of bumping heads with the State’s best – and just settling for a handful of individual sectional and State qualifiers – Curtis wasn’t about to apologize for a decision made by the State organization to shake up the regional pairings.

Oak Park-River Forest won the team title at Niles West with a score of 330, and Niles West grabbed the other automatic qualifying spot with a total of 346.

“Obviously, we got a good draw for the regional,” Curtis said. “It used to be that we were rotated more [often, by the Illinois High School Association], but we’ve been in about a 10-year stretch with not much change in the regionals, so this was welcome. We knew coming in that Oak Park would be the team to beat – we lost to them in our first match of the year – and of course we’d seen Niles West up close too. So we thought we had a pretty good chance to get to the sectional.

“The course played really hard today and the greens were really fast, so that’s one reason the scores were up. I’m just so excited for our kids. This was the first postseason experience for all of them, even the seniors, and they were able to buckle down and grind it out when they needed to.”

Young earned a third-place finish individually, ahead of teammates Clair (86), Jack McGaughy (87), Ryder Bellios (88), Sid Mehretra (89) and Alex Vasquez (91).  He shrugged off a slow start to finish with nine pars on the day.

“He started off five over [par] after six holes, but he was very steady after that. He doesn’t make a lot of mistakes out there,” Curtis said.

“It wasn’t the greatest round, but I was pretty motivated today,” Young said. “I was a little nervy on the first tee, but after that I got more into a groove.

“We went in expecting to move on to the sectional as a team. We didn’t play very well, but we still made it. My season has been pretty up and down, but yesterday I was able to get a good practice round in, and that helped. I’ve been making better decisions lately. I’ve found it’s a different game when you get to the varsity level. There are a lot of good golfers, guys who will be playing in college, that you’re up against, but usually I’m not intimidated by that. I like it, because I think it helps me play better.”

Clair actually came off the bench to deliver Evanston’s second-best score. He wasn’t part of the original ETHS postseason lineup until he received a call from Curtis Tuesday night telling him that teammate Nick Ghate, suffering from a sore wrist, wasn’t 100% and wouldn’t play so Clair would sub in for him.

Clair contributed eight pars on his way to an 86, one of his best scores in a season where he had to battle in the 6-7-8 spots in the lineup most of the year.

“I called him at 7 o’clock last night to tell him we needed him, and he was pretty excited,” Curtis said. “Nick had sprained his wrist hitting out of a trap in our last tournament and wasn’t able to play. He tried to rest it and hoped that would help, but he said he wasn’t 100% and said someone else could help the team more.

“Jack did a great job for us today. He had a couple of bad holes but you couldn’t ask for more from anyone. I’m very proud of all of them.”

“Nick is a good friend of mine and I knew he might not be able to play, so I wasn’t super surprised when coach called me,” Clair said. “I tried to treat the regional as not that big a deal even though it was the first one for me. We’ve played three 18-hole events here and we’ve played a lot of practice rounds here, too, so I had a lot of experience already on the course.

“They really rolled the greens for the tournament, so I struggled with my putting today. It was a pretty good round for me. I parred the 18th hole so I managed to finish strong.

“It eased the pressure on us, being in a different regional, because obviously New Trier and those other teams are pretty good. But I know what I can do when we go up against them in the sectional. We have a lot of potential, a lot of talent on this team. It just hasn’t shined yet.”

Evanston will join team and individual qualifiers from the Glenbrook North, Addison Trail and Walter Payton Prep regionals on Monday at the Lyons Township Sectional. That tourney will be held at Prairie Bluff Golf Course in Lockport.