All signs pointed to the Tuesday, August 23 showdown on the links at Willandale Golf Course as being a big-time key to the race for the Inter-Valley Conference championship in 2016.
While the overall scores weren’t up to par for what both Garaway and Strasburg have come to expect, the intensity and pressure between these two friendly rivals was very present, which helped make for some higher than usual scores.
While Garaway has had a death-grip on the IVC title the past many seasons, it was the Tigers who escaped with a 156-160 victory that evened up the coveted chase for the league crown.
How close was the match? Coming into the ninth and final hole the teams were deadlocked. However, the Tigers played the par-5 ninth one-under par, while Garway struggled to a three-over par, making up the four shot difference in the final tally.
“That’s about as close as you can get,” said Strasburg coach Willis. “We were dead-even coming home to the ninth. That is a couple of shots here or there.”
While the ninth was pivotal in Strasburg’s favor, with a pair of Pirates knocking their drives into the water hazard, the sixth was nearly the Tiger’s undoing. Strasburg had two players hit their shots over the green and out-of-bounds, and the team played the hole 8-over par, compared to Garaway’s 2-over par.
Both coaches said they had plenty of opportunities to seize control of the match, but bad decisions haunted them.
For the Tigers, sophomore Mitch Neidenthal stepped up big, shooting an even-par 36 to tie Garaway one-man Ben Koshmider for medalist honors.
“This was very important for us to win this if we wanted to have a shot at the IVC this year,” said Neidenthal. “I just tried to stay steady. I wanted to shoot something 38 or under tonight, and it felt good to come up with a 36. The last couple of times we have played them in conference, they have beaten us by two strokes. It feels good to finally come out on top after getting that close.”
The Tigers got a 38 from Dylan Tucker, who managed that score by overcoming two double bogeys and a bogey. His three birdies helped stabilize his effort. Mike Neidenthal and Calvin Willis both added 41s, while J.K. McKracken and Gino Shupbach added 42 and 43, respectively.
Colten Fender was next in line behind Koshmider for the Pirates, firing a 39. Brevin Weaver, who has been rock steady this season, struggled to a rare 42, while Michael Yoder and Ethan Miller both shot 43. Zach Immel added a 47.
Coach Willis said the match was so close that any number of things could have turned the tide in either team’s favor.
“We won tonight, but I am not thrilled with the decisions we made and some of our shot selections,” said Willis. “We gave away way too many shots, something we shouldn’t be doing on our home course. But they gave away some too, and if Brevin shoots the numbers he has been shooting, they win. It was that close all night. It does feel good to finally get past them, but there is still a long way to go before this thing is over.”
However, the Tigers took a giant leap forward in giving themselves a chance to dethrone the champs with a gutsy win.
For Garaway, this is not new territory. The Inter-Valley Conference champion is determined via a three-part system that consists of the preseason tournament champion, the regular season champion and the postseason tournament champion.
Garaway won the preseason tournament over Strasburg, with Hiland nipping at their heels. The same thing happened last year when Garaway won the preseason tournament then was dumped in the regular season showdown with Hiland, only to respond with a stupendous effort in the postseason tournament to maintain their firm grasp on the IVC crown.
This year it is the deep and talented Tigers who have thrown a monkey wrench into their plans.
“We have been here before, and we talked earlier this week that if we didn’t come here tonight 100 percent ready to grind it out, we could have thins kind of ending to our night,” said Garaway coach Brad Nyholm. “We just weren’t as focused as we have been, and we paid the price.”
Nyholm said he isn’t going to focus on the numbers, but rather on watching how his team handled the pressure of a huge early conference showdown with their fiercest challenger.
Strasburg head coach Jeff Willis agreed that this match carried a lot of pressure considering how early in the regular conference season the match is taking place.
“I think both teams definitely put a lot of pressure on themselves,” said Willis. “Even though these guys are all friends, there is a lot of pride in wanting to win this one, and I think that showed tonight.”
Nyholm said that his team didn’t play its best golf, as did Willis, and the Garaway skipper said sometimes a loss can be as beneficial as a win.
“We all like to win, but as much as I don’t like losing, I think this was good for us because it was a humbling experience,” said Nyholm. “We got a little too high, and this will even us out a bit and keep us hungry.”
Now both teams must get past a Hiland team that is hungry to step up and deliver a knockout punch, and any other IVC challengers worthy of making a run at the top of the regular season slate.
But come what may in the regular season, a conference champ will most certainly come down to what takes place in the postseason tournament at the end of the season.