LENA – The Fulton Steamers proved they still had what it takes to win a regional golf championship after losing three seniors who were a big part of their back-to-back 1A titles.
Fulton and Stockton both shot 328 on Tuesday at the 1A Lena-Winslow Regional, with Morrison claiming the final team spot in next week’s 1A Westminster Christian Sectional with a 335.
In addition to the Steamers and Mustangs, Eastland’s Casey Fritz and Devin Hartman and Erie’s Koby Kuhnen advanced as individuals from Wolf Hollow.
Even though the Steamers lost the team title on a fifth-score tiebreaker, there weren’t any sad faces amongst the clan clad in red and black.
“In our minds, it still feels like we won it,” said Fulton senior Gunner Decker, whose 79 led the Steamers. “We’ve had four low scores pretty consistent all year, and it feels good to come out and do it again today.”
Fulton was one of the first full teams to finish play, and the 328 scored by Decker, senior Kyle Wiebenga (80), junior Matt Dail (81) and senior Logan Rascher (88) was posted on the scoreboard for quite some time. As the final golfers trickled in, it became clear that Stockton was the only team that had a chance to beat the Steamers.
Stockton’s No. 1, Trey Timpe, needed to score 83 or better to give the Blackhawks the regional plaque. He shot an 84.
“That was one of the things that really ate away at us,” Wiebenga said of the nearly 1½-hour wait. “Our coaches told us we were supposed to be the fifth-ranked team here, and that left a sour taste in our mouths. We wanted to prove that Fulton came to play today, and we had guys step up like we have all year.”
Morrison also had some tense moments playing the waiting game. With No. 1 golfer Reid Hoffman and Le-Win’s No. 1 Logan Moothart still to finish, the Panthers led the Mustangs by four strokes for the final team spot in Monday’s sectional meet.
But Hoffman rebounded from three double bogeys on his first three holes of the day to post a 77, beating Moothart by 12 shots to help Morrison advance comfortably (335-343).
“I made up three shots on the front after that bad start, then hit some stupid shots on the back and somehow still pulled off a 77,” said Hoffman, who was runner-up individually to Stockton’s Cameron Upmann (74). “I didn’t play like I wanted to, but it made a big difference in the team score. The other guys pulled through with some good scores, and I’m super excited and proud of my team for moving on to Monday.”
Eastland finished fifth (346), and will have a pair of individuals playing in Algonquin next week. Casey Fritz and Devin Hartman tied for third individually with matching 79s, the low score among individuals not on the three advancing teams.
“I struck the ball well, but my putts just weren’t falling,” said Fritz, a senior. “I thought for sure that there’d be a lot better scores than 79, but I feel pretty good about being in a four-way tie for third place.”
“I’ve been up and down all year, and after a 43 on the front nine, I thought I was out of it,” Hartman said. “But then I played par golf on the back, and I was pretty pumped when I saw how I finished.
“It’s going to be good having Casey there next week too; I’ll play more relaxed and not feel as much pressure, because he always keeps me laughing.”
Senior Seth Blair almost joined his Cougars teammates, but came up short in a one-hole playoff against Le-Win’s Moothart for the final individual spot.
Erie was the next local finisher, placing eighth. Kuhnen, a junior, shot 82 to place fifth among the individuals not on the top three teams; the top 10 moved on.
West Carroll (11th, 418) and Prophetstown (13th, 422) also competed in the 14-team, 83-golfer meet.
As for the Steamers, they were riding high on the way back to the team bus after advancing to sectionals as a team for the fifth straight season.
“It’s awesome, almost indescribable,” Dail said. “To lose three scholarship golfers after last year and still come back and actually shoot five shots better today, it shows our consistency and gives us a lot of confidence for Monday.”
1A Lena-Winslow Regional
1. Stockton 328*; 2. Fulton 328; 3. Morrison 335
* - won fifth-score tiebreaker
Local individual advancers
Casey Fritz (Eastland) 79; Devin Hartman (Eastland) 79; Koby Kuhnen (Erie) 82
Medalist: Cameron Upmann (Stockton) 3-over-par 74
Runner-up: Reid Hoffman (Morrison) 77