Preparations for this moment started as early as last summer when they were training full-time on their own and their season started the first day of school in August when they lifted weights three to four days a week.
The Longhorns won the program’s first region title Monday at Eagle Watch Golf Club with a 321 team score. Kell led by 18 shots after the first nine holes, but had to stymie a late surge by East Paulding to win the region championship.
“When we have an 18-stroke lead at the turn, you’d figure that it would be hard to lose,” Kell coach Craig Hines said. “East Paulding had a solid turnaround.”
Three of Kell’s top four golfers shot 40 and below on the front nine to put the Longhorns in front by nearly 20 strokes, but the Raiders came within three on the back nine to finish second with a 324.
Pope and North Paulding tied for third behind East Paulding with scores of 349 respectively. Sprayberry finished ninth, but John Sterrett shot 77 to finish third and qualify individually for the Class AAAA state tournament as the lowest scorer whose team didn’t place in the top two.
This year’s state tournament will be held May 7 at Jones Creek Golf Club in Augusta.
Freshman Matthew Hines led the way with a 3-over par 75, which was good enough for second behind low medalist Buster Bruton of East Paulding, who carded a 73. Defending individual state champion Michael Hines didn’t have one of his best rounds, but finished strong recording a 79, which was the fourth-lowest score. Mark Decoster shot an 82 for the Longhorns and Matt Shriver finished with an 86.
Craig Hines thought he could relax a little when he found out his squad had a safe lead after the turn, but discovered quickly that East Paulding had different ideas on the back nine.
East Paulding’s Jake Brown and Chandler Weeks improved by eight strokes in the last nine holes and finished with an 84 and 88, respectively. Bruton shot under par in the back with a 35 after shooting 38 in the front, and Garrett Waters also made a three-stroke improvement on the back to finish with an 88.
“We kept battling (on the back nine) and that’s what we really needed,” East Paulding coach David Ryan said.
Kell didn’t fare as well as East Paulding did on the back nine.
Shriver and Decoster were both four strokes higher and Matthew Hines was three higher. Only Michael Hines dropped his score on the back — he dropped to 38 after shooting 40 in the front — and his only birdie of the day on No. 18, a 502-yard uphill par-5, clinched the title for Kell.
Shriver making birdie on hole No. 18 to end his round was also pivotal for the Longhorns.
East Paulding’s huge drop in the back nine made Kell’s front nine scores that more pivotal. Matthew Hines led individually at the turn with an even 36, and his front nine was highlighted by a 50-foot putt for birdie on No. 2 and chipped 15 yards for birdie on No. 4. Decoster also had two birdies on the front nine to make the turn at 39.
Sprayberry’s Sterrett dropped his score eight strokes from last year’s region tournament. Like Kell, Sterrett also had a strong front nine. He chipped for birdie on No. 3 and sank a 20-footer for birdie on 6.
For Pope, Atish Patel dropped five strokes on the back to tie teammate Sean Hickock with an 85. Patel salvaged his round with two birdies on the back, as did Hickock, who improved three strokes on the last nine.