By Brad Fauber
NEW MARKET -- Strasburg senior Jacob Smith found himself locked in a tight competition with Central's Joseph Plauger during the entirety of Tuesday's annual Shenandoah County golf tournament at Shenvalee Golf Resort.
Smith, who knew his chances of claiming the title of county individual champion rested heavily on whether or not he could best the Central sophomore, found it difficult to create much separation against Plauger throughout the tournament's 18 holes.
Smith seized an early one-stroke advantage over Plauger by saving par on the fourth hole of the tournament, which Plauger then erased two holes later with his only birdie of the day on the par-3 Olde Course No. 6. A bogey by Plauger two holes later gave Smith another one-stroke lead, and then the duo matched each other nearly hole for hole rest of the way as Smith's slim lead held up.
Smith earned the Shenandoah County individual title with a 6-over-par 77, topping Plauger (78) by one stroke.
"We literally, from the first hole, battled all the way through," Smith said. "We were almost completely the same. I had him by one on the front and it was the same all the way through.
"I kind of knew that if I had him I pretty much had it. I knew there were other good players coming through but I figured if I could get him, I figured he was closest competition."
Smith was steady on the links at Shenvalee (Par 71) all afternoon, and though he didn't record a birdie throughout the three-team tournament, he did hit 14 of the 18 greens in regulation and saved par on 12 different holes.
"I didn't putt the greatest but I hit the ball well. I was pretty proud of the way I hit the ball," said Smith, who shot a 37 on the front nine Olde Course and a 40 on the Creek Course.
The Rams as a team left New Market with plenty to smile about, as well.
Strasburg put together what head coach Jordan Hardy called the team's most consistent effort of the season from top to bottom on Tuesday, and the Rams returned home with the county championship trophy as a result. Strasburg fired a collective 324, enough to beat defending champion Stonewall Jackson (335) by 11 strokes. Central was third with a score of 366.
The Rams had held the trophy in 2011 and 2012 before the Generals earned the victory last season, and both Hardy and Smith said Strasburg was eager reclaim that hardware this season.
"I think anytime you go within our county, as small as it is, we like to rival each other in anything really. It was a big goal of ours," Hardy said. "... Beforehand we talked about, just because you're not playing well you can't give up because it affects everybody's score. So guys were really just grinding it out, really just trying to get a score."
Strasburg's top four golfers earned all-county honors Tuesday by placing in the top six in individual scoring, as Colten Smith fired a 79 to finish tied for third place with Stonewall's Ben Rosenberger, and Garrett Richards and Reese Taylor tied for sixth individually with 84s.
"That's definitely something to be proud of. We're proud of that but we're really proud of the team part of it too because it's like county bragging rights," Hardy said. "It's something fun to have and something that we'll take back in our school ... hopefully brag about it for a year and then try to come back and get it again next year. It's really fun. It's a fun event for these kids and it keeps it competitive within the county."
Rosenberger put together arguably his best solo performance with Stonewall Jackson, as he broke the 80-stroke barrier for the first time in his career.
In addition to Rosenberger, the Generals also got a strong effort from senior Kory Somers, who carded an 80 and finished fifth among all individuals to earn a spot on the all-county team.
But the Generals didn't show the same type of depth on Tuesday that they used to win the county tournament last season. Stonewall Jackson's No. 1 golfer, Jonathan Koontz, continued his recent struggles by firing an 86. Rosenberger and Somers helped keep the Generals within five strokes of Strasburg after the first three groups turned in their scores, but Stonewall's Tyler Somers turned in a 90 alongside Taylor's 84 in the fourth group, which effectively sealed the win for the Rams.
"I knew that Strasburg had a very good golf team, had a lot more players probably coming back than we did, and definitely Central," Generals head coach Roger Wilkins said. "We knew it was going to be tough. The depth that they have right now against our depth is a little different. We've got to close that gap if we expect to move on eventually.
"Ben, since he was on the team basically back as a sophomore and junior, in key matches he's always pretty steady," Wilkins added. "... He's just steady and he's a good golfer. He's a smart golfer. And I've got three pretty intelligently golfers there at the top."
Aside from Plauger, who finished second individually in the county meet for the second straight season, Central continued to fight through some growing pains. But Falcons coach Jeff Walters was pleased with the progress he saw from his players on Tuesday.
Corey Sibert just missed out on all-county honors with a career-best 87, and Coy Jimenez fired a 99 while dropping into double-digit scoring for the first time this season. Davis Weddle rounded out the scoring for Central by firing a 102.
"[Plauger] battled all day, had a great round. He really enjoyed the competition with [Smith] today," Walters said. "... Really overall very pleased with the team effort today. This is our low round as a team. We set a couple individual goals on the bus and we had a couple guys reach those goals.
"We knew we weren't going to be able to compete with Strasburg and Stonewall today, but I'm really happy about it."
Contact staff writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or firstname.lastname@example.org