Smith, Taylor lead Rams to league title

By Tommy Keeler Jr.

HARRISONBURG — Jacob Smith and Reese Taylor didn’t play well on their first nine holes, but the two Strasburg golfers knew that had to change.

They both stepped up and helped carry Strasburg to the Conference 35 golf tournament championship at Heritage Oaks Golf Course on Monday. The Rams won with a team score of 317. Page County was second with a 321. The top two teams advance to next week’s Region 2A East tournament, also at Heritage Oaks.

“All day I never thought it was about me, I knew it was about my team,” Smith said. “I was like, ‘well, I’m not playing well — this is about the team, it’s a team effort.’ So I was like, ‘I got to change it around for my team,’ and that’s why I did.”

Smith shot a 39 on the front nine, which included a double-bogey on the second hole. He was four shots over after the first four holes, but he regrouped in a big way on the back nine.

Making birdies on 11, 16 and 18, Smith shot a 34 on the back nine and posted a three-over par 73 to finish in second place overall individually.

“I knew I didn’t play very good on the front. I was like, ‘I gotta save this for my team,'” Smith said. “I played very well on the par 5s, I was two under on those.”

Taylor, Strasburg’s No. 4 player, shot a career-best 81. He started off on the back nine and struggled with a 45. The junior then turned things around with a two-over par 36 on the front nine.

“I was nine over through seven, and I was just thinking about my team and how my score was probably going to count, so I have to do good,” Taylor said. “On the front, I tried my hardest.”

Taylor said that chipping and putting were the key to his strong round.

“I wasn’t hitting my driver that good,” Taylor said. “My short game helped me out a lot.”

Colten Smith also shot an 81, and Garrett Richards fired an 82 for a very balanced Strasburg squad.

The Rams have struggled at times this season with producing four solid scores, but got them when they needed it the most in the conference tournament.

“I think this year one thing we’ve been missing is that fourth score, so it was really important. That 81 [Taylor] brought in was big for us,” Strasburg coach Jordan Hardy said. “It takes four scores, and that’s one thing we really try to stress is even if you’re not playing well you can’t just give up and let it go. You really got to stick with it and try to grind it out. So I’m proud of the toughness they showed in that aspect of playing hard, and really trying to fight through even though some of them weren’t playing their best.”

Stonewall Jackson has also been trying to find a fourth score all year, and the Generals came up a little short in the conference tournament. The Generals finished with a 325 and finished in third.

Six individuals also qualify for next week’s regional tournament, and Stonewall Jackson has three of them. Seniors Jonathan Koontz (76), Ben Rosenbrger (79) and Kory Somers (82) all advanced to regionals.

Koontz said a double-bogey and a triple-bogey on 13 and 14 proved costly for him. He shot a 35 on the front nine, but said it could have been better.

“At the beginning, putts just weren’t falling. I would get birdie opportunities and they just weren’t falling,” Koontz said.

Wilkins said he was proud of the way the seniors played and that their season will continue.

“They’re quality young men, they’re honest,” Wilkins said of the trio. “They have integrity, pride and they work hard. They’re hurting because they wanted the team to go, not just individuals.”

Madison County’s Austin Kelliher was the low medalist with an even-par 70.

Hardy said the Rams are playing their best golf right now, and hope to continue that next week on the same golf course.

“You have to peak at the right time and you have to play your best to advance — that’s what we’re going to try to do,” Hardy said. “A course like this is just about hitting good shots and making good swings and not letting things get away from you. We really try to focus on our guys getting better. Hitting the ball better, putting better — try to focus on what we can control and getting better as a team.”

Contact staff writer Tommy Keeler at 540-465-5137 ext. 168, or tkeeler@nvdaily.com