By G. Michael Graham
The 10th tournament championship of the season for the Highlands Bluebirds boys golf team came in the one circled on every team's calendars.
That came in the 8th Region championships Monday at Pendleton Hills Golf Course in Butler on a dreary day. Highlands edged Grant County, 323-324 in 18 holes.
"We tell them every time, 'Every shot matters," said Bert Richey, Highlands Head Coach. "In golf, you can't hide. Every player is equally important."
Highlands won its second region championship in three years. But unlike two years ago, only the region champion advances to the state tournament. The Bluebirds have gone to state as a team three times in the past four years. They finished region runner-up in 2017.
The Bluebirds saw seniors Justin Gabbard and Luke Muller go out strong at second and third with scores of 78 and 80 respectively. Grant County's Tyler Mitts earned medalist honors shooting a 75 on the par 72 course. Gabbard managed three birdies (one under par) and Muller had one.
Gabbard and Muller have participated in five region tournaments. They had a similar experience of bad weather in the region tournament as eighth graders in 2016. Richey said it rained hard forming pools of water on the greens among other things.
"Playing in the rain like that, you always know that everyone else has to play in the same condition so you have to come out and change your mindset to grind it out," Muller said. "You know it's going to be tough and you know it's not going to be the same. You know the scores are going to be higher pretty much no matter what. (Monday) was probably the toughest conditions I've ever played in on the back nine. The scores showed it. It was great to come out on top even with the high scores."
Highlands sophomore Joel Craft tied for fourth shooting 81. Craft had one birdie. Muller, Gabbard and Craft also helped the Bluebirds to the region championship two years ago and an eighth place finish at state.
Richey could not say enough about junior Jack Schneider. Schneider finished seventh shooting 84 in his first region tournament ever.
"(That) is absolutely amazing," Richey said. "It's not the lowest score. But that's the best round he's played all year."
Schneider recorded two birdies. He edged the fourth Grant County scorer in Brennen Gordon, who tied for eighth with an 85 with Owen County's Joe Hamilton.
"You just had to keep playing. Keep hitting the ball. Don't worry about what you used to do or what the shot was before," Schneider said. "You just have to keep getting the ball closer and closer to the hole. You had to stay strong in the mind and don't let a bad shot get to you. We all had a great time playing (Monday)."
Highlands eighth grader Hank Shick participated in his second region tournament shooting 92 to finish tied with two others for 19th out of 69 golfers.
The state tournament takes place at the Bowling Green Country Club next week. Highlands played in a tournament there Sept. 12.