Highlands found itself in 11th after the first day shooting 349 at the Bowling Green Country Club. But the Bluebirds rebounded to shoot 312 and vault up several spots. Louisville Trinity won the tournament shooting a total of 614. This marked the highest finish in program history.
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"We didn't play well the first day," said Bert Richey, Highlands Head Coach. "The debacle that happened with Luke cost us 20 shots. But that's okay. Our goal was to go out and play our best and we did. That is probably the absolute best we were going to play on that course in those conditions as a team."
Senior Justin Gabbard finished his outstanding career tying for fifth out of 101 golfers shooting a two-day total of 143. That is the highest individual finish in program history. Gabbard had golfed in the previous three state tournaments. But his previous best was a tie for 20th.
Gabbard shot a 68 for a four-below par 72 on the final 18 holes of his high school career. He shot 75 on the first day for a two-day total of one-below par 43. Gabbard had the best score in the 18 holes on the second day. Gabbard had five birdies (one-under par) and just one bogey (one-over par) on Wednesday.
"It was awesome. That's everything I could have wished for and more," Gabbard said. "All I wanted to do (Wednesday) was not leave any shots out there and I didn't. I know it sounds cheesy, but it just shows how much wanting to do well can actually produce success."
Gabbard admitted he soaked everything in on the 18th hole. The Xavier University commit said he started to become emotional about everything then.
"The team is what bring you back every year and gets you excited - just building a relationship with the new guys, the guys that are returning," Gabbard said. "We all love each other. It's going to be weird next season not having a fall season with all my friends. I couldn't say thank you enough to everyone. It's always positivity with the Highlands golf team. I feel like there's always good things happening. He didn't just settle for what could have been just a high finish. He put himself out there."
Marshall County senior Jay Nimmo and Cooper's Rylan Wotherspoon shot 68s on the first day and 73s on the second day forcing a playoff. Nimmo won the playoff to repeat as the individual state champion.
Three players shot 68 on the first day with two more shooting 69 and three shooting 70. But only Gabbard shot below par on the second day.
Gabbard entered the final hole with a chance to win the state championship. But Gabbard shot a six for the bogey.
"We went for it," Richey said. "We had a good feeling it was going to take three under and he was two under for the championship so we got aggressive and tried to make the bird to post what we thought at the time would be the winning score. He hit a great drive and it barely nicked the tree and dropped down. He was in a little trouble. He gave his birdie putt a good run trying to post that to make that score. He ran it a little bit by. That putt coming back just didn't go in. I was super proud of him because he went for the win."
Senior Luke Muller fired a 79 to finish off his career finishing second on the team. Muller was not able to finish Tuesday. He said the disqualification was unfortunate. But he credited Richey for being there for the team and the work he put in to make the team successful.
"In the end, I believe I did the right thing for everyone to make the tournament as fair as it could be and unfortunately, I took part of the fall," Muller said. "Beside all that, playing for Highlands golf is something I will never forget and something I am definitely going to miss from teammates, coaches, parents, road trips and memories that will last forever. In the end, there's so much more to it than golf. But after the unbelievable season we had, I couldn't ask for much more out of anyone. I hope the young kids learned a lot from me and Justin. I know their futures are very bright."
Sophomore Joel Craft and junior Jack Schneider rounded out the scoring for the Bluebirds. Craft shot 81 and Schneider shot 84. Craft finished with a two-day total of 169 good for a tie for 71st and Schneider finished with a two-day total of 173 tying for 80th. Richey said those scores helped the Bluebirds to the goal of a top-six finish at state.
Highlands eighth grader Hank Shick concluded his first state tournament shooting a 97. He also shot 97 on Tuesday for a two-day total of 194 good for 99th. Richey noted Schick received valuable experience at the tournament.
Gabbard and Muller led Highlands to 10 tournament titles this year including the 8th Region championship. The dynamic duo golfed in four state tournaments. Gabbard, Muller and Craft helped Highlands to a region championship two years ago and an eighth-place finish at the state tournament.