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Hill’s persistence pays off for Stonewall Jackson

By Brian Ellerbeller@nvdaily.com
HARRISONBURG — Russell Hill can remember back to his freshman year, the last time he was competing for a regional berth. After suffering through a bout of food poisoning, Hill struggled on the course, shooting well into the triple digits.

It’s been three years since that forgettable day, and Hill found retribution Wednesday. Now a Stonewall Jackson senior, Hill shot his way to a 78 at Heritage Oaks, leading the Generals to a regional berth with a second-place finish in the Shenandoah District tournament. Riverheads finished two strokes ahead of Stonewall at 325, and will accompany the Generals to the Region B tournament on Tuesday.

“I feel great about [my round],” Hill said. “I hit everything solid, was in the fairway and my iron play was terrific. My putting struggled at first, but coach [Roger] Wilkins always tells me it’s done and over with, so I just moved on a thought of bigger and better things for myself and eventually it paid off.”

Following an impressive freshman campaign, Hill didn’t suit up for the Generals during his sophomore and junior years, deciding to return for one last season as a senior, a decision that has paid off for both he and his teammates.

Early in his round, however, Hill found himself struggling with his short game, as gray skies developed into a steady rain by the end of the tournament. On the second hole, Hill reached the green, but had to four-putt his way into the cup on a par 4. Fortunately for Hill, he found success on the part of the course that seemed to plague most everyone else — the back nine.

Central senior golfer David Hoye said the back nine holes at Heritage Oaks offer more of a challenge than the first nine. The front nine is a little flatter and has more open spaces, Hoye added, offering more opportunities for lower scores. For Hill, however, his 40 on the front nine gave way to a 38 on the seemingly more challenging back nine.

“As a senior and playing with a lot of older guys, I’ve always gained a lot of wisdom from them,” Hill said of the course. “A lot of times the younger kids, they can’t hit the ball as far. So they have to hit the driver and it’s not as consistent, where as I can pull out a four iron or five iron and just hit it down the fairway, and that’s what I did with my irons today.”

Stonewall’s entrance into the regional tournament was also good news for Hoye. After shooting a disappointing 85 and determining his team wouldn’t move on to regionals, the Falcons’ No. 1 wasn’t sure his score would be low enough to qualify him as an individual.

“I didn’t play too well today,” Hoye said. “I started out OK on the front nine, but really I just had a few bad holes and couldn’t get out there and score.”

Not even a birdie on the 12th hole could turn Hoye’s luck around in regulation. After two impressive shots to start the hole, Hoye found himself 40 yards from the pin on a par 4. On his third shot, his birdie attempt fell in the cup, temporarily lifting his spirits. He couldn’t close out the day, however, as the 85 was his second-worst score of the season.

To compound his frustration, Stonewall Jackson had turned in three lower scores, and if the Generals failed to advance as a team, those three golfers would have prevented Hoye and his 85 from advancing to regionals.

Luckily for Hoye, Stonewall played well enough to advance, but he still was in a tough spot. His 85 was matched by two other golfers — Bob Baker from Page County and Brian Knott from Buffalo Gap — and only one could fill the sixth and final individual spot for regionals.

The three golfers headed to a playoff, where the trio would play until one golfer moved on. Both Hoye and Knott had solid tee shots on No. 1 — Hoye’s landing a bit further down the green — while Baker’s went out of bounds, digging a deep hole for the Panther. On their second shots, Hoye and Knott landed on the green, each roughly 20 feet from the hole.

Hoye went first, needing two putts to sink the ball, giving him a par for the hole. His par put the pressure on Knott, who needed a two-putt to continue the round. On Knott’s first putt, the ball started strong but tailed off, stopping about 10 feet from the cup. His second putt couldn’t find the cup, either, rolling just to the right, helping Hoye win the hole and the final regional spot.

In addition to advancing to regional, Hoye was named first-team all-Shenandoah District, along with Falcons teammate Stephan Truban, and Tyler Barb from Stonewall Jackson. Both Barb and Truban will join Hoye at regionals.

“Overall, I thought I drove pretty decent and putted pretty decent,” Truban said of his 76. “If I could improve on anything, I could’ve made some shorter putts within five feet, but I thought I played well.”