MORRISTOWN — Science Hill saved its best performance when it needed it the most.
The Hilltoppers shot a season-low, even-par 288 as a team to win the Region 1, Large Schools Golf Tournament at The Country Club of Morristown, and earn a bid to next week’s state tournament in Manchester.
Jackson Skeen led the way with a 69, followed by 73s from Sean Anderson, Carter Counts and Gavin Nickels. The combined round was so good that Tarun Hoskere’s 79 didn’t even count towards the team total.
Anderson said the Hilltoppers managed the course well, scrambling when tee shots weren’t as good as they wanted. Science Hill coach Kevin Vannoy felt confident his team, which didn’t have a senior among the five players, was in for a good day when the boys got on the bus.
“The guys were really focused,” Vannoy said. “We came down Saturday and had a great day of prep. Some alumni had the kids over last night and they were sending them text messages. When they got on the bus this morning, they were as focused as I’ve ever seen them. It showed with a total team effort, Jackson with a 69, Sean, Carter and Gavin all shooting 73, and Tarun has been there too. On any other day, his number would stand.”
Tennessee High, which beat Science Hill for the District 1 title last week in Blountville, finished second at 304, some 16 strokes back. The Vikings got low rounds from Jet Tickle with a 70 and his cousin Jack Tickle with a 74, but couldn’t match Science Hill’s No. 3 through No. 5 players.
The Hilltoppers used last week’s loss in the district tournament as extra motivation for the region.
“To us, this is the second most important tournament of the year,” Skeen said. “We win this and have a chance at our ultimate goal — to win state. To lose to them last week, it humbled us. I’ve never worked so hard in my life for any tournament as I did this one.”
Anderson added, “We’ve been really preparing for it. Tennessee High beating us, that really motivated us. We’ve been on the course every day for 3-4 hours. We’ve been going at it, but we’re not done yet.”
Jake Mynatt of Carter and Sean Owen of Cherokee each shot an individual low score of 68, setting off a playoff for individual medalist. Mynatt won with a birdie on the first playoff hole. Those two and Jet Tickle advanced to the state as individuals.
Among the local golfers, Randy Warren from Sullivan East had an 82, Casey Whiting from Daniel Boone shot an 83, and his Trailblazer teammate Noah Little finished with a 92.
Cocke County won the girls’ championship by one stroke over Dobyns-Bennett, 148-149, despite a low round of 66 from the Lady Indians’ individual medalist Isabella Vanderbiest. Tennessee High finished third at 156.
Individual state qualifiers were Vanderbiest, Kara Carter from Sullivan South and Savannah Haney of Morristown West.
Among the local efforts, Science Hill’s Lillian Qin shot an 81, and Daniel Boone golfers Mackenzie Miller, Baylor Padgett and Abby Yarbrough all ended in the 90s.
“Our kids did an excellent job just to get here,” Daniel Boone coach Scott Martin said. “Our conference is brutally tough and whoever wins our conference is usually a threat to win the state. I’m proud of the three girls and two boys to make it down here. I don’t remember having five individuals make it down here before. We’re young with two sophomores and a freshman, so the future is looking bright.”
The future is also bright for the Science Hill boys, who will turn their focus to next week’s state championship where defending champion Knox Halls beat the ’Toppers in a playoff for the title a year ago. To earn the rematch, the ’Toppers had to get through the tough region.
“To come down here, it’s part of the process, part of the tradition,” Vannoy said. “To lose two D1 players with Jack (Rhea) and Garrett (Whitfield), we had to have our young guys step up where they were counted on to score. If we work hard, hopefully we can make going to state a habit with this group.”