The only thing stopping the West Liberty-Salem boys golf team is darkness.
The Tigers are unbeaten in the Ohio Heritage Conference and have been a formidable foe for Division I schools at invitationals. They have depth and experience, but what coach Darren Leichty loves most about his players is their drive.
“As soon as we’re done with a match I’ve got guys on the putting greens till dark,” Leichty said. “That isn’t necessarily something I ask them to do. They just start doing it.”
This drive began last fall when the Tigers left the district tournament in fourth place, two spots and 16 strokes from going to the Division III state tournament.
“That’s all they’ve talked about since last year at districts,” Leichty said. “That’s what’s driven them because that’s what they want. They’re not going to stop till it happens.”
Nick Sims, a junior, knows what the state tournament is like. He qualified as an individual last year by winning a playoff at the district tournament and placed 28th. Sims was the OHC’s runner-up for player of the year the past two years. But that doesn’t mean he gets to play in the No. 1 spot every match.
Moving up in the Tigers’ lineup requires beating the man in front of you in consecutive matches. Four of the Tigers’ six regulars have won medalist honors. And they’ve had numerous four-player combinations determine their team score. Their nine-hole average is 157.
Sims leads the team with a nine-hole average of 37. Senior Jacob Rutan is next at 38, followed by junior Ethan McBean at 39, freshman Kannon Stillings at 41, senior Casey Gay at 44 and freshman Dillon Callicoat at 45. Only five get to play in the postseason.
“They’re rooting for each other,” Leichty said, “but they’re also trying to beat each other.”
The Tigers play in the sectional tournament Sept. 24 in Arcanum. If they finish in the top four, which they’ve done the past two years, they advance to the district tournament in Middletown where they need a top-two finish to go to state.
Showdowns coming: The Tecumseh, Kenton Ridge and Tippecanoe boys soccer teams are tied for first in the Central Buckeye Conference Kenton Trail Division at 4-0. It might be more than two weeks before the tie is broken.
The first meeting among the teams is Tecumseh at Kenton Ridge on Sept. 30. Two days later the Arrows play at Tipp. Kenton Ridge and Tipp don’t meet until Oct. 9.
Two-sport kickers: Shawnee and Northwestern football fans are used to seeing girls do the kicking. Shawnee’s Kaitlin Gregory, following in the footsteps of sister Carly, has made 14 of 16 extra-point attempts and her only field-goal attempt heading into Friday’s game. Northwestern’s Maddie Crew was 10-for-10 on extra-point kicks.
But on other nights the two seniors are on the soccer field. Gregory has five goals and three assists for the 4-1-2 Braves. Crew has eight assists for the 4-1-3 Warriors.