The Spring Lake boys golf team traveled to Lincoln Hills Golf Club in Ludington for the third time in seven days to take on the MHSAA Division 2 regional championship.
With hopes of finishing in the top three and earning a bid to the state meet, pressure was high for the young Lakers.
The reigning O-K Blue Conference champions did just enough to continue their season, placing second with a total score of 331. A monster effort by Gaylord took top honors at 312 strokes, while Petoskey took the final qualifying spot, carding a 333.
Nick Krueger paced the Lakers in the best way possible; his 18-hole score of 71 earned him first-place honors as the best golfer in the field.
“It feels good,” he said of the title,” I played well. My putter was really good today. My driver was a little off, but I played it well from there, and I hit a lot of putts.”
Jack Johnson followed for Spring Lake, finishing with a score of 84, while Chancellor Fry penciled in an 86. Zack Lisman took home a 90, while Sam Walters claimed a 91.
Spring Lake got their first look at Lincoln Hills on May 24 for a single match against Ludington and returned to the course earlier this week for a practice round on the back nine. For the majority of the Spring Lake scoring team, those two test runs went better than Thursday’s regional round.
“They made me worry,” Bitner said. “The front nine was good, their focus fell off in the second half. If they had shot their averages, we would have had no problem making it in.
For Krueger, the opposite was true.
“I got in for a practice round on Monday,” he said. “To see the back nine for the first time, that helped a lot I think.”
The effort proved to be enough for the Lakers, however, who accomplished their goal of earning a spot at the state finals on June 9-10. Now, their attention turns to shoring up their games, and heads, for the final round of the year.
“They’ve got a lot in their heads, and are playing stiff,” Bitner said. “I think we can shoot better than this at the Meadows, which is a tougher course. They just have to focus, focus, focus.”
“You just have to stick to what you know and what you have at the time,” Krueger said of pushing through tough rounds. “You have to grind through the round, even if you are doing bad. Play for bogey instead of double bogey and be smart when you get in trouble. Just manage your way around the course.”
The focus will be helped by solid course knowledge and the comforts of home. The championship match will serve as the Lakers’ third time rounding the Meadows and will be close enough to commute for the two-day competition.
“They have been there two times before already, and we get to sleep at home. I think we can do better,” Bitner said.
The familiar atmosphere will be broken by the flock of east-side schools, ready to dominate the field. Gaylord holds the No. 2 state ranking and serves as the only west-side school in the top 10.
“It is going to be tough,” Bitner said. “All the rated teams are in the east side of the state.
Mind over matter is the strategy for Bitner and his team between now and the big finish. Continued competition in practice and relaxed expectations bode for a fun atmosphere in the climax of a successful season.
“I told them, ‘you got in, they can’t kick you out,’” he said. “I know we are going to shoot better, but coming up against those Eastern schools will be tough, so I’ll just compare us to the west. “
Challenge matches will occupy the Lakers’ competitive drive in the meantime. With one week of preparation, Spring Lake hopes to with the best of them come June 9.
Vanbiesbrouck qualifies for state
The Western Michigan Christian boys golf team took on the Division 4 regional championship Thursday, finishing fourth overall and qualifying one individual for the state championships.
Daniel Vanbiesbrouck carded an 80 to take a regional title and earn an individual bid to state. He led a Warriors team to a total score of 368.
Also qualifying individual was Brenden Harris of North Muskegon with an 81 and Eric Kohagen from Fowler with an 84.
Grand Rapids NorthPointe Christian took top-team honors with a score of 322. Lansing Christian finished second at 336 while Muskegon-Catholic Central took the third team big with a 339.