The Hole Team to Contend With
By JACOB VAUGHAN, Sports Editor
Sep 27, 2012, 13:52
Thomas Dale senior Jeremy Craft claimed medalist honors at Monday's Central District golf tournament at The Highlands Country Club in Chesterfield (photo by Jacob Vaughan).
CHESTERFIELD - As golf playoffs go, this one was as jovial as they come.
After finishing tied atop the Central District golf tournament leaderboard on Monday, Thomas Dale seniors Jeremy Craft and Eric Blythe reconvened at the first tee box to determine who would leave The Highlands Country Club with medalist honors.
"We said to each other, 'Either way, we both tied for the win,'" Craft said. "We're teammates, so we just wanted to go out there and have fun."
Craft prevailed, edging his teammate with a par on the second hole that capped a near-perfect afternoon for the Knights. Thomas Dale - which went unbeaten in district play to claim the regular-season title - won the tournament with a team score of 309, besting Matoaca's mark of 323.
Prince George carded a collective total of 365 while Colonial Heights and Dinwiddie came into the clubhouse at 379 and 381, respectively.
Thomas Dale coach Dave Duncan said his senior-laden squad met a long-standing goal by sweeping the district and regular season crowns for the first time in six years.
"This year they went in saying, 'This is our senior year,'" said Duncan, who was named district coach of the year. "They wanted to make this special."
They did just that, laying claim to the top three spots in the tournament. Craft and Blythe both came in at four-over 76, narrowly beating teammates and fellow seniors Griffin Clark (77) and Tyler Gray (80). Matoaca sophomores Peyton Broach and Davis Topping equaled Gray's eight-over tally.
Last year's Group AAA runner up, Clark was named district player of the year for the third time in his illustrious career. Duncan said he was pleasantly surprised to see his leading trio outshoot the district's finest.
"This is just icing on the cake for us," Duncan said. "It was totally unexpected because I think Matoaca has a team that can definitely put some numbers up."
Matoaca will join Thomas Dale at next week's Central Region tournament.
Dinwiddie sophomore Peyton Durham (82), Hopewell senior Maddy Crocker (86), Prince George senior Nathan Britt (88), Prince George junior Mark King (88), Colonial Heights senior David Markins (90) and Meadowbrook's Zach Wood (90) all secured individual region berths.
Craft, who played golf as a freshman but took a two-year hiatus from the team to play volleyball as a sophomore and junior, opted to return to the course this year.
"I was all right at volleyball," Craft said. "But golf is what I do best."
That much was clear on this cloudless afternoon.
Craft birdied the par-four sixth and par-five ninth en route to a one-under 35 on the front nine. He had a bit more trouble on the back nine, but finished with four consecutive pars to right the ship.
"I was pretty solid through the front nine," Craft said. "I had three holes where I messed up, but I was making a lot of putts today. That's really what saved my round."
No putt was more important than the 15-footer he drained on No. 18 that ultimately drew him level with Blythe.
A state qualifier last year, Blythe was a model of consistency. He birdied the first and 12th in regulation before sticking his second shot to within two feet of the pin on the first playoff hole.
True to form, Craft responded by sinking a 10-footer to keep pace.
"That put a little bit of pressure on me," Craft said. "Thankfully, I drained my putt and put a little pressure on Eric to make his."
He did, but Craft claimed what he dubbed a "bittersweet" victory with a timely two-putt on the next hole.
Matoaca junior Matthew Padgett carded an 81 while Bret Lockett chipped in on No. 18 to finish with a tally of 82, a score matched by teammate Samuel Smith. The Warriors fared well despite a roster that is devoid of seniors, a feat coach John Hall said bodes well for the future.
"All of my kids will be back next year," Hall said. "And most of them will be back for two years, so I am really excited."
Hall likened his team to the Thomas Dale squad of two years ago, when the now-senior Knights were still finding their form on the links. Whereas the Warriors seem primed for future success, the Knights hope several seasons of hard work come to fruition in October.
"Our hopes are always to win states," Craft said. "But we just play one round at a time and see where it goes."
Their next competitive round will be in the region tournament, which will take place on Monday at Jefferson Lakeside Country Club and Tuesday at Stonehenge Country Club. Duncan said he thinks his team could be one of the two that advance from that bracket to the state tournament.
"We don't have to play great golf," Duncan said. "We just have to play solid golf, be smart and do what we're capable of doing."
Craft, who hopes to play collegiately at Christopher Newport University next year, said the team's close-knit nature will be a benefit when the pressure heightens.
"We've played together since we were in middle school," Craft said. "We all know each other pretty well. We're friends ultimately, so when we head out onto the golf course it's nothing more than going out for a regular recreational round."
Paced by the play of seniors Jeremy Craft, Eric Blythe and Griffin Clark, the Thomas Dale golf team won the Central District tournament on Monday (photo by Jacob Vaughan).
Central District First Team
**Griffin Clark (Thomas Dale)
* Jeremy Craft (Thomas Dale)
Eric Blythe (Thomas Dale)
* Matthew Padgett (Matoaca)
Bret Lockett (Matoaca)
Davis Topping (Matoaca)
* Zachary Wood (MBK)
*Denotes All-Academic honoree
**Denotes player of the year