Plauger helps Central to conference title in spite of rain

Central's Joseph Plauger tees off Tuesday morning during the Conference 35 golf tournament at Blue Ridge Shadows in Front Royal. Rich Cooley/Daily

FRONT ROYAL – Central golf captain Joseph Plauger put his foot down at a recent Falcon practice and told his teammates that weather would not inhibit them in Tuesday’s 2A East Conference 35 tournament at Blue Ridge Shadows.

“Once we heard about the possibility of rain, he told them not to let down no matter what’s going on with the weather; he was a good leader for us,” said Central coach Jeff Walters.

Not only was Plauger a good leader on a rainy Tuesday, but he also finished as low medalist with an 81 on the par-72 course outside town.

Plauger’s low score combined with a surprising 84 from fourth man Luke Estep, an 89 from Coy Jimenez and a 93 from Corey Sibert combined for a team score of 347, or nine strokes better than runnerup Clarke County (356) for the conference championship.

Because they finished as champion and runner-up in the tournament, both the Falcons and Eagles will represent the conference at Monday’s Region 2A match at Kiskiack Golf Club in Williamsburg.

Strasburg's Colten Smith watches a putt roll during the Conference 35 Golf Tournament Tuesday at Blue Ridge Shadows in Front Royal. Rich Cooley/Daily

Also headed to the regional are Strasburg’s Colten Smith (84), Madison County’s Gaines Swink (87), George Mason’s George Gilligan (90) and Rams Austin Stickles (90), Seth Stickley (93) and Reese Taylor (93).

Locals Smith, Stickles, Stickley and Taylor qualified for the regional because their scores were among the low six medalists whose teams will not be represented in Williamsburg.

“Colten hit a rough patch with his ball-striking, so it’s good to see him pick it up here at the end,” said Strasburg coach Jordan Hardy.

Smith, a senior and No. 1 Strasburg golfer, ran into putting difficulties on the early holes on the course’s front nine. He also had a club slip out of his hands.

“I thought I played well enough, especially with the weather,” he said.

Central's Joseph Plauger grimaces after missing this putt on the first hole of the Conference 35 golf tournament Tuesday at Blue Ridge Shadows in Front Royal. Plauger was the top finisher. Rich Cooley/Daily

Smith said he slowed his swing down by 50 percent once the rain began pouring on the back nine.

Smith’s plan was working in the minds of other golfers. For instance, Falcons Estep and Jimenez said they both curtailed the paces of their swings to make sure they hit safely in the wet conditions.

“I just wasn’t swinging real hard,” said Estep, whose score was a personal best.

“You just slow everything down,” added Jimenez.

Rain was light through the morning of the match that started about 9:30 a.m. under overcast skies and finished about 5 p.m. (with lunch added in) as it poured.

Nonetheless, Plauger weathered on. When he came to the officials’ scoring table inside the Blue Ridge Shadows clubhouse, his Central golf cap was dripping, but his scorecard was not. He kept it bundled in a tidy notebook. Plauger’s cap was autographed by Central team members.

Plauger has qualified for three straight regionals and one state tournament thus far. He was glad to have his friends join.

“That’s what means the most to me,” Plauger said, “having these guys come with me.”

“I love my team,” said Walters. “They’re a close-knit bunch and they play for each other.”

The coach mentioned the name of freshman Brandon Davis, who though he failed to qualify, shot a career-best 96 on the 6,204-yard layout.

It has been a year of over-achievement for Central. Twin brothers Jack and James Burr moved out of the Falcon school district during the season and regular Sam Shifflett cracked two bones in his wrist. He was not playing.

“We’ve had a few different lineups,” acknowledged the coach.

The one constant has been Plauger.

“With the rain you just try to play your game,” he said. “The umbrella is valuable and you could wear some rain gloves, though mine were kind of loose. By the time we got to the 15th, 16th and 17th holes, the tees were like puddles. You just have to stay under control. I’d say I reduced my swing to about 75 percent.”

Clarke (356) got a career-best 83 from freshman Raul Viza-Fernandez, playing his first match on the varsity. Following the second-place Eagles were Strasburg (360), Madison County (386) and George Mason (360).

“I’d say the course held up wonderfully, we had no issues on the greens. There were some struggles, but in all it was in fabulous condition,” said Walters, who was out in the elements in a cart, as was Strasburg coach Hardy.

Tournament director Matt Hiserman and Blue Ridge Shadows pro Mike Ahrnsbrak talked with coaches throughout the day. When the rain picked up the decision was made to go on because Wednesday’s rain forecast called for more of the same.

Annual Conference 35 golf tournament

At Blue Ridge Shadows Golf Club, Front Royal (Par 72)

Team scores: 1 Central 347, 2. Clarke County 356, Strasburg 360, 4. Madison County 386, 5. George Mason 390

Low medalist: Joseph Plauger, Central 81


First team: Joseph Plauger, Central 81; Raul Viza-Fernandez, Clarke County, 83; Luke Estep, Central, 84; Colten Smith, Strasburg, 84; Brendan Ciaburri, Clarke County, 85; Gaines Swink, Madison County 86

Second team: Coy Jimenez, Central, 89; George Gilligan, George Mason, 90; Austin Stickles, Strasburg, 90; Reese Taylor, Strasburg, 93; Seth Stickley, Strasburg, 93; Corey Sibert, Central, 93.

Local scores:

Central (347)-Joseph Plauger 81, Luke Estep 84, Coy Jimenez 89, Corey Sibert 93

Strasburg (360)-Colten Smith 84, Austin Stickles 90, Reese Taylor 93, Seth Stickley 93