Corey Cusick/ Times-Georgian
Delivering its best finish at the state level in more than a decade, the Carrollton High School boys' golf team closed out the spring campaign on a high note Tuesday afternoon.
As the host of the Class AAAAA field for the GHSA Golf State Championships, the Trojans improved by three strokes on Day 2 of the event at Sunset Hills Country Club to finish in fifth place with a two-round tally of 633, marking the program's top billing since a third-place performance in 2006.
"This group has finished sixth, eighth, 11th and now fifth. So the best finish in their careers. It takes a lot to be consistent. Schools tend to run into athletes in any sport where there's a couple here, a couple there where people have runs," Carrollton head coach Kurt Hitzeman said.
"But sustained, consistent performances show that we have a good program. Having said that, our guys peaked at the right time. Obviously, no one, single performance is ever going to define an entire season or career, but for the last three postseason rounds, we shot 321, 318 and 315. So we improved and shot our best throughout this postseason stretch run. That was awesome."
Starr's Mill won the team event with a 595 (296-299), while McIntosh (300-305) and Ola (305-300) tied for second at 605 and Statesboro came in fourth at 610 (302-308) in the 10-team field.
Individually, Jackson Lawlor of McIntosh won low medalist honors behind two solid rounds (71-70) to finish 1-under at 141.
For the second straight day, it was senior Will Cochran leading the local front for the Trojans. After posting a 1-over 72 on Monday, Cochran came through with another solid performance with a 5-over 76 by shooting 1-over on the front nine and 4-over on the back nine to finish in a three-way tie for fifth individually at 148.
Rounding out Carrollton's finishers were Cole New in a tie for 23rd at 156 (78-78), Max Schoenfeld in a tie for 34th at 163 (83-80) and Clay Fontenot in a tie for 39th at 166 (85-81).
Also competing but not factoring into the team score were Mario Perezcassar III in a 44th-place tie at 170 (89-81) and Dalton Benefield in 65th at 201 (105-96).
Making the Trojans' finish even more impressive was the fact that they did it without their No. 1 golfer all year, as senior Chandler Dixon, who has signed to play at Eastern Florida, was sidelined after undergoing shoulder surgery.
"I'm just proud of the guys who stepped up this year. We did have our No. 1 golfer, who is one of the best in the state, go down. We played without him for almost the entire year. Nevertheless, our goals that we had at the beginning have all been achieved and it's something to be very proud of," Hitzeman said.
Hitzeman was especially proud for his three seniors — Cochran, Schoenfeld and Dixon — who all have bright futures ahead of them with Cochran and Schoenfeld headed to the University of Georgia on academic scholarships.
"Will is an excellent player and he's going to go on to the Honor's College at the University of Georgia and do great things. Max Schoenfeld is going to go on to the Honor's College at the University of Georgia and he's going to become a doctor someday. Those guys are going to do great things," Hitzeman said. "I look forward to seeing Chandler continue to play. He's already rehabbing and getting his game back to proper form and he's going to do outstanding things."
Hitzeman also praised his younger players for their efforts, as well, not only over the past two days, but for the entire season when it comes to New, Fontenot, Perezcassar and Benefield, who was a late addition to the squad.
"Dalton Benefield comes in with his lowest score ever. He just picked up this varsity sport a couple of months ago. Clay Fontenot has really been working hard this year and has made great strides and he comes in with his best score ever," Hitzeman said.
The other major storyline leading up to state and over the past two days was hosting the Class AAAAA state championships at Sunset Hills Country Club, which overcame weather elements and a couple of ruling discrepancies to make for a smooth finish where some classes across the state only got to play on one day.
"What a great way to end it in the sunshine with a result that nobody could dispute. The best team here was Starr's Mill over two days. There's no question about it. They played great, were great sportsmen. They just did an outstanding job with their preparation and everything. So hat's off to them," Hitzeman said. "Ola came in and played two solid rounds and jumped a couple of spots [Tuesday] to finish runner-up. They did a great job. The kid from McIntosh that was a low medalist, outstanding golf from him. Anytime you can shoot under in two rounds at Sunset Hills, I feel like that's a pretty good performance. This course protects par pretty well."
Hitzeman also wanted to thank his staff and that of Sunset Hills for all the work they put in to make the past two days a first-class event.
"I was extremely proud of our staff, our coaches, our professionals here, the USGA official that was provided for us. I think the tournament committee did everything the right way," Hitzeman said. "Our end result showcased how good we can be here."