Tigers claw their way to state to erase a bitter taste

Strasburg didn’t have to play flawless golf to win a district title and advance to state for the second time in Strasburg High School history.

While the Tigers didn’t play a perfect round, Dylan Tucker nearly did, and his one-under par blew away the field and led the Tigers to a huge district title that has helped finally put to rest the pain of last season when they finished second.

Oddly enough, Strasburg won this year’s tournament with a score of 311, the identical score that earned them a runner-up spot last year behind Hiland’s 307. The Hawks would earn runner-up honors this time around, shooting a distant 345.

The sour taste of coming so close last year would never materialize this year, as the Tigers would take a solid lead at the turn over Hiland, its closest threat, and never look back.

“This is a lot more pleasing than the feeling we had at this time last year, and conditions today were even a lot tougher than last year,” said Strasburg coach Jeff Willis. “We had to live with that agony of getting so close last year with a team we felt could have performed very well at state. I wasn’t sure we could get to that 311 again this year, because the golf course was so soaked and muddy that guys had tough lies and mud on their balls, but we really did well and I am so proud of these guys.”

The only time the Tigers made it to state prior to this was in 2010, a team that placed second.

Willis said this team has talked a great deal about not only matching, but surpassing that feat.

“The guys haven’t talked about going to state, they have talked about winning state,” said Willis. “That is the attitude they have taken all year, and the last three weeks they have worked even harder than ever to get where we want to be.”

While the Tigers were good, Tucker was ridiculous.

The steady junior left-hander set sail with a front-side 35, and never stopped zeroing in on the pin.

“I took the same approach I had at sectionals in trying to just keep the ball in play,” said Tucker. “I had a couple of putts drop today. My main goal coming in was to shoot a 74, but things kind of worked out in my favor today.”

“He has really stepped up his game,” said Willis of Tucker. “That is as good a number, under these conditions, that I have seen,” said Willis. “There may have been lower numbers at districts here, but not under these kinds of wet conditions.”

Finishing runner-up medalist was Tucker’s teammate Gino Schupbach. Another lefty, Schupbach did not let a triple-bogey on number five prevent him from coming home with the day’s second lowest score of 77.

“Just confidence, you have to keep playing and believing in yourself when something like that happens,” said Schupbach. “This is something we have been looking forward to since last year, and it is a great feeling, especially because we know what we are capable of doing. Just getting there isn’t enough for us. We want to go win it. That is the whole point.”

“That is what you expect to get from your seniors who have been here,” said Willis. “That was a nice job of putting a bad hole behind him.”

The rest of the Tigers struggled some on the back side, but managed to easily outdistance the field. Mike Neidenthal added an 80, a score that was tied for forth-best on the day, while Mitch Neidenthal carded an 83 and Jarrett McCracken added an 88.

While it might not match the school-record 296 the Tigers tossed out earlier this year at River Greens, they will gladly take the 311.

“This is a dream come true for us, and these guys have worked extremely hard to make it happen,” said Willis.

While Strasburg’s dreams continue to flourish, Hiland’s season ended in the spot the Tigers had occupied a year earlier.

While the 34 stroke difference between the two teams made it somewhat more bearable, and Austin Kaufman’s team knew it hadn’t played its best, what was truly heartbreaking was one-man Tremper Coblentz’ bid to qualify for state as the one individual to make it out of districts.

He and Malvern’s Jaret Majestic played together with Tucker, and the two realized one of them was going to be the one guy to get out once it became obvious Strasburg had an iron-clad lock on first place.

Majestic led by several strokes until Coblentz rallied late. On 17, facing a long birdie putt he felt he had to make, Coblentz went for it and rammed it past the cup, and missed the comebacker. On 18, with Majestic punching out of trouble from under a tree, a fabulous approach shot from Coblentz that was terrifically tough, gave him hope.

However, his birdie putt came up inches shy of the hole, and his 80 was one shot shy of forcing a playoff with Majestic, who advanced to state with a 79.

“That is so tough,” said Kaufman. “It’s heartbreaking, but he will get better from this and he will be back next year. This was a great learning opportunity for all of our guys, and with everyone back, hopefully this will make us work that much harder over the offseason to get better.”

Kaufman said plenty of penalties quickly added up to some bigger than usual scores. The rest of the Hawks played well enough to place the Hawks second, with Johnny Mullet and Bruce Yoder logging 87s, Claye Hummel adding an 89 and Dylan Kaufman carding a 91.

“We knew we had to be pretty perfect to compete with Strasburg, and that may have added some extra pressure on us,” said Kaufman. “But Strasburg is a great team, and they will represent the IVC very well.”

Strasburg will now tackle Northstar Golf Course in Sunbury, the site of the Div. III state tournament.

Tucker has played there during some tournaments this summer, so he knows the course well, something that could come in handy.

“I think we can go down there and get the job done,” said Tucker. “I doubt that the course will play as long as we played it during the week at the Ohio Publinx, but it definitely helps to know the course.”

It also helps to have an incredible amount of faith in each other to get the job done, and the Tigers certainly look like they have the eye of the tiger when it comes to that belief.

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