VASSALBORO – All three of the newly crowned champions had high expectations coming into the Maine State Team Championships at Natanis Golf Course Saturday.
After coming so close to winning it all in recent years only to have to settle for second or third place, however, none of them felt a title was “in the (golf) bag,” figuratively or literally.
Even when it was confirmed that Waterville, Winslow, and Houlton had, in fact, won the Classes A, B, and C team high school golf crowns, respectively, it took awhile to sink in for most team members.
The Houlton Shiretowners figured they’d be lucky to finish third in Class C after posting a score of 338, about 18 strokes higher than their target score and 24 higher than what they carded last year to finish second, three strokes behind Telstar of Bethel.
“We figured probably 320 would get it for a score and that’s what we were shooting for. When I came in and saw 91, 93… I didn’t think we’d be on top,” said Shiretowners senior Josh McGuire. “We shot 314 last year and thought we’d win, but then the Telstar kid came in with a 68 and they beat us.
“This year we came in and we’re like ‘Geez, we’re in trouble. Let’s get in the cars and go home,’ but I’m glad we stayed.”
So were Maine Principals’ Association officials, who would have had to mail the Shires their trophy and individual medals.
McGuire’s 6-over-par 78 and sophomore Porter Gervais’ 76 led the way for Houlton, and its 338 – though not among the best team scores turned in on a clear, sunny and comfortable day at Natanis – was more than low enough to finish first in the 11-team field as runner-up North Yarmouth Academy was seven strokes back at 345.
“We shot better than that during the practice rounds, actually,” said Bruce Nason, now in his fifth season as Houlton’s coach. “We didn’t really play great today, but we played well enough.”
Houlton’s game plan for victory was pretty simple.
“I told them to keep the ball in play, put it in the fairways, stay safe, and don’t get too cute,” said Nason.
Houlton’s three other individual scores were 91 by sophomore Dylan Flewelling, 93 by senior Mike Cleary, and 97 by senior Peter Hagan.
The title is Houlton’s first in Class C and third overall. The Shiretowners won Class B crowns in 1990 and 1993.
The Winslow Black Raiders won Class B convincingly with the lowest score of the day (310), but after making five straight trips to states and finishing third each of the last three years, none of the team members dared to believe they’d won until it became official.
It was all about consistency and composure for the Black Raiders Saturday as they finished three strokes ahead of second-place Falmouth (313).
Consistency came in the scoring as senior Kevin Byrne and junior Josh Gallagher each shot 77, juniors Jeff Browne and Mitch Maroon shot 78s, and junior Matt Lubier had 82.
“They finally all learned how to get it done,” said Dick Browne, who won his first state title in 15 years as the Raiders coach. “When I started looking at this season, this is what we had in mind.”
Composure came from Gallagher and Loubier, who didn’t let a few bad holes affect their play on the remaining ones.
“Matt shot an 82, but he was 10 over with seven holes left so he finished real strong,” Browne said. “Josh has had trouble in tournament events in the past after tough holes. Today, he made a triple bogey on 14 and he was right on the bubble of blowing up or not, but he didn’t.”
Gallagher said a little mental timeout did the trick.
“I was just thinking I still had a lot of golf left to play and to forget about it,” Gallagher explained. “I mean, we had a long wait on the tee, so I just sat there and thought about it. I knew I had to not go the way I usually do and try to help my team.”
Gallagher parred the next hole, notched a birdie on No. 16, and that triple bogey was a distant memory.
The Waterville Purple Panthers thought they’d finished second after an erroneous score was posted for a Deering of Portland golfer. It was three strokes lower than it was supposed to be. Once the mistake was discovered and corrected, the celebration for the Class A champs was on.
“We came in second by three strokes last year, so it was pretty nerve-wracking waiting for each score to come in,” said Waterville coach Reggie Grenier. “We just needed three guys to shoot really well and our bottom two guys to keep it together, and they did.”
The Panthers edged Deering and Thornton Academy of Saco by one stroke each.
Waterville was led by senior 1-2 punch Joe Flowers (71) and Chris Hamel (71). Senior Ross Donahue carded an 84 while senior Tyler Eaton had a 90 and Paul Michaud notched a 93.
“I hit my irons so well today. My putting was good, too,” said Hamel. “I started to mess up with a couple bogeys coming into the back nine, but I somehow came through.”