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Cilley’s State Am run ends with semifinal loss to Leavitt

  • Jim Cilley drives the second hole at Stonebridge Country Club in Goffstown Friday at the State Am.<br/><br/>(GEOFF FORESTER/ Monitor staff)

    Jim Cilley drives the second hole at Stonebridge Country Club in Goffstown Friday at the State Am.

    (GEOFF FORESTER/ Monitor staff)

  • Jm Cilley follows through on his drive at the 6th hole Friday as the State Am rolls on at the Stonebridge Country Club in Goffstown<br/><br/>(GEOFF FORESTER/ Monitor staff)

    Jm Cilley follows through on his drive at the 6th hole Friday as the State Am rolls on at the Stonebridge Country Club in Goffstown

    (GEOFF FORESTER/ Monitor staff)

  • Jim Cilley drives the second hole at Stonebridge Country Club in Goffstown Friday at the State Am.<br/><br/>(GEOFF FORESTER/ Monitor staff)
  • Jm Cilley follows through on his drive at the 6th hole Friday as the State Am rolls on at the Stonebridge Country Club in Goffstown<br/><br/>(GEOFF FORESTER/ Monitor staff)

GOFFSTOWN – Faced with a difficult path through the New Hampshire Golf Association Amateur Championship, Jim Cilley found the most efficient way to travel it. In winning four matches – two against higher seeds – the Pembroke Pines Country Club golfer never trailed a hole. He took early leads, quickly grabbed momentum, then held on as the stakes rose on the back nine.

In the semifinals yesterday – after his most impressive victory of the tournament, no less – Cilley finally had someone use that approach against him.

The 2011 champion saw his quest for a second title end yesterday, losing to Atkinson Resort and Country Club’s Joe Leavitt, 5 and 4, in the semifinals. Leavitt, the 2012 champion, will square off against Bretwood Golf Course’s Damon Salo, a 2-and-1 winner over Derryfield Country Club’s Matt Paradis.

Cilley, who made it to the quarterfinals with a pair of close wins Thursday, put himself in prime position with a 5-and-3 win over Ryan Friel in his first match yesterday, but fell behind Leavitt before the turn in the later match and only fell further off the pace on the back.

“(Leavitt) played rock-solid. He was as good as it gets,” said Cilley, a Penacook resident. “The later you get in the tournament, you’ve got to make birdies. And I just ran out of gas and I couldn’t do it.”

Different as the result was, the match began the way the previous ones had for Cilley. Leavitt lost his first tee shot of the match in the woods on the left and had to settle for bogey, while Cilley made par to claim a familiar lead only one hole into the match.

It was the kind of start Cilley had gotten used to, but the same could also be said for Leavitt, who trailed in each of his previous matches and who had grown comfortable playing with a deficit.

“I’ve been 1-down every match, and honestly, I know I can make birdies and I know I’ll be able to make some putts,” he said. “I wasn’t worried at all.”

That confidence showed itself when Leavitt sank a 15-foot putt for birdie on the third hole, and after Cilley bogeyed the sixth hole, Leavitt dropped another birdie putt on the seventh hole to grab a 2-up lead that he took into the back nine.

Leavitt rolled in another birdie putt on the 10th to stretch the lead to 3-up, and Cilley, forced to take risks to try to battle back, saw his game start to slip. He hooked his tee shot on 11 before salvaging a par and a halve, but saw an excellent opportunity to cut the gap slip away when he lipped out a birdie putt on the 12th hole and had to settle for another halve.

“Really, the real swing part for me, momentum-wise, where I was like ‘Now I’m in trouble’ was when I missed the putt on 12,” he said. “That was really a makeable one, had a nice shot in there. He missed his, I knew that I had an opportunity to cut into it and kind of come back. It was really the only bad stroke I made all day.”

More trouble occurred when Cilley’s tee shot on the par-3 13th went into the trees – marked as a hazard – behind the hole and settled next to a rock. Cilley considered hitting it off the impediment – a trick he tried successfully in a 2011 tournament – but had to settle for a drop that cost him the hole. His second shot on the par-5 14th found the woods as well, and after difficulty getting out and onto the green, Cilley conceded the match.

“I pressed a little bit. And I’ve been saying it all week, it’s Jurassic Park out there on the back,” Cilley said. “You can come back if you get down, but that’s if somebody hits bad shots, and Joe never hit a bad shot. He was quality, and I pressed a little bit.”

Leavitt made sure he never got a chance, going bogey-free after the opening hole.

“I played well all day. I’ve played better as the week’s gone on,” he said. “If I can continue to swing like that, I think I’ve got a good chance (today).”

Cilley agrees, citing Leavitt’s experience on the State Am stage as a reason why.

“I thought whoever came out of this match, this afternoon, would have a really big advantage (today),” Cilley said. “Not only were we both playing well, but we both have the experience of being there. And your first time there, it is pretty nerve-wracking.”

Salo will look to overcome that after his win over Paradis, a Hooksett resident who’s also a member of Concord Country Club. Paradis was dominant in a 6-and-5 win over Michael Killam in the morning, but didn’t have an answer for the third-seeded Salo.

“Overall, the tournament was great. It was a good time. Today, I didn’t take advantage of a couple of close shots I hit,” he said. “Damon played a great round. … I definitely needed to roll them in today, I needed to make some birdies to beat him. The other guys kind of gave me a couple of holes, but Damon wasn’t going to give me any.”

Cilley was on form in his opening match, winning the first three holes en route to a 6-up lead over Friel at the turn.

“I played really solid this morning,” Cilley said. “He started to give me a little bit of a match there on the back nine … but it’s one of those things where if you’re 6-up after nine holes, you’re really not going to lose. You shouldn’t ever lose.”

The final match was a different story, but Cilley knew a third semifinal appearance in four years was an accomplishment in and of itself.

“Only one guy’s happy at the end of the week, it’s the guy that holds the trophy,” he said. “To be in the last four after 130-something guys that were here, not to mention the 300-something guys that tried to qualify to be here, that’s not bad. It’s disappointing not to win, but it’s not bad to be in the last four guys.”

(Drew Bonifant can be reached at 369-3340 or at abonifant@cmonitor.com or via Twitter @dbonifant.)

Related

State Am final four

Saturday, July 19, 2014

After cruising past Ryan Friel in the quarterfinals, Pembroke Pines Country Club’s Jim Cilley saw his quest for a second State Am title end in the semifinals. Results from yesterday’s semifinals, and the matchup for today’s championship: Semifinals No. 16 Joe Leavitt, Atkinson Resort & Country Club def. No. 20 Cilley, 5 and 4 No. 3 Damon Salo, Bretwood Golf …

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