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State golf: Tigers, Irish take their shots

West Liberty-Salem’s experienced team knew reaching the Division III state golf tournament wasn’t exactly a tap-in putt. Nonetheless, playing the Ohio State Scarlet Course today and Saturday is where the Tigers expected to be.

“They realize they are peaking right now, and they are ready to see what we can do,” Tigers coach Darrin Leichty said.

For Catholic Central’s young team, it was like putting from 50 feet and hoping.

“I had been thinking next year,” Irish coach Cuyler Doane said. “Then we get blessed with getting to go to state this year. They’ve been on cloud nine since it happened.”

The Tigers and Irish are the first teams to represent the Ohio Heritage Conference at state since Triad placed 10th in 2006. Since the conference was founded in 2001, Triad had been the only OHC team to make it.

WLS won the Southwest District tournament with a runaway 18-hole score of 317. As the scores were coming in the Tigers were confident. Central, however, trailed Cincinnati Summit Country Day by seven shots after nine holes. So they watched nervously as each score was written on the board. Central’s second-place score of 342 was one shot better than Summit.

“I saw them (WLS) watching and enjoying watching us go through the process,” Doane said. “At the end, our boys were just as excited for them as they were for us. It was fun to see.”

Both teams had practice rounds Thursday.

None of the Tigers has experience at Scarlet, but No. 1 player Nick Sims, a junior, played as an individual at the state tournament last year on a different course. Sims won last week’s district tournament with a 73 and is the OHC Player of the Year. Following Sims are seniors Jacob Rutan and Casey Gay, junior Ethan McBean and freshman Kannon Stillings.

The Tigers’ district score is the second-best district score in the 12-team field behind Toledo Ottawa Hills’ 312. Leichty has studied scores from past state tournaments enough to know his team should be confident.

“I think we have a chance to win it,” he said. “We’ve been improving the last couple weeks, and we’re still getting something out of our practices.”

Doane is confident his four juniors – Sam Juergens, Quinnton Howard, Sean Jacobs, Ian Collins – and freshman Kyle Foley, who has played Scarlet twice, aren’t happy just to be there. Their district score is the highest in the field.

“You have to treat this like it’s the only time you’re going to be there because there is no guarantee you will make it back,” Doane said. “I’m hoping for the possibility of something magical.”

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