Beginning in 1994 with a conquest by the esteemed Oscar Serna, Mexico produced International Junior Masters champions with predictable regularity. Raul Garcia won the title in 1997. Julian Valenciana followed up in 2002. Accustomed as they are to heat and altitude, Mexican players were famous for darting up the hills of East Aurora Country Club with alacrity while their competitors to the north labored on.
But Mexico’s run at the IJM stopped with Valenciana’s victory. The dry spell has spanned more than a decade. And while it might not end this afternoon, one thing’s for certain: Mexico is going to have its shot.
Eduardo Carrete, 15, of Queretaro outside Mexico City, and Raul Pereda, 16, of the Gulf Coast town of Veracruz will square off in today’s semifinals after scoring similar pulsating victories in Thursday afternoon’s quarterfinals. Carrete saw a four-hole advantage trimmed to one before his 5-iron from 183 yards rolled off the pin and set up a one-foot putt good for a 2-and-1 victory over co-medalist Camilo Aguado. Pereda had a five-hole lead at the turn but had to hold on for dear life before dispatching Gunner Doyle of Pittsford, 1-up.
The other semifinal will pit the longest shot in the championship flight, Trevor Ranton, 16, of Waterloo, Ont., against the bearded Brendan Hunter, 17, of Groton, Mass.
Ranton secured the 32nd and final championship seed in a playoff Wednesday morning, knocked off top-seeded Brodie McKinney hours later and never played the 17th hole Thursday in winning two more matches, the last a 4-and-2 quarterfinal triumph over Owen Bates of Mississauga. Meanwhile, Hunter dodged bullets like Superman in outlasting Pablo Torres of Colombia in 19 holes.
The semifinals will be contested in the morning with the championship match scheduled to begin around 2 p.m., pending weather-related adjustments.
Carrete faced the biggest task of the quarterfinals. Aquado had EACC under his thumb in medal play and wrapped up his Sweet Sixteen match before the 14th hole. What’s more, he went 2-up after two holes in the quarters as Carrete struggled to find his game. But once Carrete settled in fortunes reversed in dramatic fashion.
Carrete went on a birdie blitz, producing five to lead 4-up through 12 holes. Aguado countered with a birdie run of his own with the last of them, on the par-5 16th, cutting the deficit to one. An 18th-hole showdown loomed as Aguado drove the fairway some 20 yards ahead of Carrete on the long par-4 17th. But Carrete squashed that advantage with a stinger 5-iron that rolled with bull’s-eye precision from the fringe to the pin, hitting fiberglas and stopping dead. Aguado missed the green just right and couldn’t prolong the match with a magic chip.
“I tried to hit it normal but I hit it a little bit low so when I heard the pin sound I was like really happy,” Carrete said.
No onlooker was more astonished than Pereda as his match with Doyle marched on to the par-4 18th hole. Both found the fairway and Parete hit his approach to 10 feet while Doyle saw his approach spin off the green into the rough. Doyle conceded when his chip came up short.
“It was a hard match,” Pereda said. “I was 5-up and I was starting the back nine and that guy started playing really, really good. I was making pars and all that stuff and he started making birdies and I was like, ‘Come on, stop doing that please.’ It was really hard. I’m exhausted.”
Carrete and Pereda hugged after their victories. They know each other from time spent playing for Mexico’s junior national team.
“We’re teammates, we’re really good friends,” Pereda said.
Ranton avoided the dramatics in continuing his unlikely run to the semifinals.
He persevered in a five-man playoff for the final three spots in the championship flight. He got away with average play in winning his first two matches. But he found the gas pedal against Bates, who conceded the match after Ranton’s approach to 3 feet on the par-5 16th.
“I played decent in my first two matches but I played really well this afternoon,” said Ranton, who was 3 under at the close. “I made four birdies and that one was for eagle. I still could have putted better but I couldn’t have hit it much better.”
Bottom line: He’s still alive.
“I didn’t expect a ton from the match play just because the guy I was playing went 74-67 and I had to play him later that day,” Ranton said. “I guess I picked up my game.”