Friday’s first round was about a great high school golf team playing “fantastic” under nice conditions.
Saturday’s second round, with the wind whipping around Northstar Golf Club, was about that great golf team showing its championship mettle.
The Central Catholic Crusaders were up to the challenge.
The Crusaders built a big lead on the first day and held on somewhat comfortably Saturday to win the boys Division III state tournament.
“They hung in there and played well today,” Central Catholic head coach Dave Oates said. “They did what they had to do.”
Up by 13 strokes after Round 1, the Crusaders finished with a two-day total of 615 to outdistance runner-up and defending champion Hiland by 11 strokes. Gilmour Academy was next at 640, 25 strokes back of Central, in the 12-team field.
The Crusaders are state champions after finishing third each of the previous two years.
It’s the fourth state title in program history, the first since 2014.
Seniors Charlie Belden and Kyle Freudeman were on both of the third-place teams, while senior Alex Milavickas and junior Gavin Shamblen were on last year’s team.
“They kind of knew what it took this year,” Oates said. “We knew we’d be in the hunt and that we’d have a really good team. So these guys worked their butts off all offseason. … We talked about it all the time: ‘What are you doing to help us get there?’”
All four finished in the top 12 individually this weekend.
Milavickas, who was tied for the lead after an even-par Round 1, shot 7-over 79 on Saturday to finish sixth at 151.
Shamblen tied for eighth at 153. Belden was 11th at 155. Freudeman tied for 12th at 156.
Hiland’s Brookston Hummel took first individually. He fired an even-par 72 on Saturday to finish with a 2-over 146, one stroke better than Pettisville’s Max Leppelmeier and Columbus Wellington’s Carsten Judge.
As an example of Central’s depth, Milavickas and Shamblen led the Crusaders this weekend after Freudeman was the sectional medalist and Belden was the district medalist. Freudeman or Belden typically led Central this season.
“My 3 and 4 men were great this weekend,” Oates said. “I mean, my No. 3 man was leading the tournament after the first round.”
Shamblen was 5-over through five holes Saturday before steadying the ship with back-to-back birdies on Nos. 6 and 7. Milavickas was 4-over on the front, but birdied 10 and 11 to gain some cushion.
Central led by as many as 19 on the back nine during a day in which wind gusts were over 25 mph, according to Oates’ estimate.
It’s been a weird and challenging 2020. But Oates and his close-knit Crusaders (including junior fifth-man Austin Haig) have something special to remember it by.
“Every successful team I’ve had, they’ve always been close,” said Oates, in his 24th year as Central’s head coach. “That’s certainly the case with these guys. They drag each other to the course. They work their butts off. They push each other. And they care about each other. It’s the common denominator.”