By Jeff Nations
BASYE -- Ben Kline could only wistfully shake his head about that lost opportunity on the No. 17 hole at Bryce Resort during Monday's annual Shenandoah County golf tournament.
Well on his way to a stellar score on the back nine at Bryce, Kline inexplicably misfired on back-to-back putts. He settled for a 37 on the back nine, after firing a 40 on the front nine.
"On 17 I had a five-foot birdie putt and I three-putted it," Kline said. "That's just lack of concentration, but it turned out to be all right."
It did turn out all right for Kline, as the senior held off teammate Joseph Plauger by a stroke to repeat as county champion after winning last year's competition at Blue Ridge Shadows golf course.
"Just another solid performance by him," Central coach Jeff Walters said of Kline. "He's getting to the point to where even if he's really not on top of his game, he knows how to grind it out. He sticks with the game mentally, and he's old enough and mature enough now that if he hits a bad shot, he's not shaken by it."
It didn't turn out all right for the Falcons in the team competition, though, as Stonewall Jackson showed that superior depth trumps an even slightly top-heavy lineup on most days. The Generals got strong efforts throughout their lineup to card a collective 326, 10 strokes better than Central (336) and 14 better than Strasburg. It was the Generals' first team county championship since 2008, snapping the Rams' two-year reign atop the county standings.
"All of us sort of have three top-notch scorers who could be high scorers any day," Wilkins said. "So it was going to come down, I thought, to the four, five and sixes. That's where we did it today."
The Falcons actually led the team scoring by five strokes after the top three groups had turned in their cards, on the strength of strong days by Kline, Plauger and Jacob Allwine (81). The scoring dropped off from there, and Stonewall made up that ground and then some. The Generals' No. 4 scorer Kory Somers tallied an 85, and even No. 5 Ben Rosenberger's 89 would have been enough for Stonewall to comfortably win.
"I don't think I've ever seen it happen in a county match where we've got three of the top six scores and don't win," Walters said. "I'm very pleased with the top guys -- we had the top two scorers. We've just got to find a fourth man who's consistent, and right now that's where we're struggling."
Following Kline and Plauger atop the leaderboard were the Generals' Andrew Good and Colton Harlow, who both tallied 79s on the par-71 course. Good had his own troubles putting, battling greens that played both soft and extremely fast.
"Andrew has been steady all year long," Wilkins said. "He had a couple triples and said he even had a four-putt on one hole. So obviously to shoot that and have those kinds of holes, he was shooting everything else well."
Harlow's 79 was a nice lift for the Generals, as well. With regular No. 2 Jonathan Koontz slowed by an injury that he re-aggravated before "gutting out" an 83, Wilkins said Harlow came up big for his team.
"He played like a No. 3 should play today," Wilkins said. "He's got the ability and he's a great athlete in anything he plays, whether it's this or baseball or basketball."
Strasburg's Tyler Doman completed the six-player all-county team with an 82, and was yet another casualty of those slick, spongy greens.
"Good day tee to green -- I was pretty solid hitting the ball the way I wanted to," Doman said. "But just on the greens, I just didn't have it. I had six three-putts and a four-putt and I shot eight-over, so that was pretty much the day."
Also scoring for the Rams were Jacob Smith (85), Garrett Richards (85) and Colten Smith (88).
"I like playing against coach Walters and coach Wilkins," Bowley said. "They're really good coaches and I enjoy the competition between them. But had we played just a little bit better than we did, I think I'd have enjoyed this day a whole lot more. They played pretty well today, and we didn't play quite good enough."
Walters expects all three teams to be solid contenders once the postseason rolls around, an indication of how strong the golf programs in the county are this year.
"The good thing about this tournament is there's really three good teams this year, so it's good to have a competitive match," Walters said. "I know the guys like each other and all three teams are going to be in the playoffs at some point."