MATTOON — Benton golf coach Reggie Norman stared at the scoreboard at the Mattoon Golf and Country Club until the final scores were posted in the Class 2A boys golf sectional, just to make sure.
The math suggested the Rangers were going to state, but it was close.
“I’ve got to be honest with you, I didn’t relax all day, even until the end,” Norman said.
But, in the end, the math worked in the Rangers' favor. They finished second to Alton Marquette. Marquette placed three players in the 70s to post a 310. Benton had 332. Mattoon (340) was the final team to advance.
“I knew the scoring would be up,” Norman said. “I came into the tournament thinking that 310 would be the number we needed to get out. Once you get into the sectional, it’s all about survive and advance, until you get to the dance. We were trying to go sub-310.
“I’ll tell you what, with the greens double-cut and rolled, and the wind picking up on a tight golf course, numbers went up in a hurry. I was a little bit shocked the numbers went as high as they did. There were some pretty good players with big numbers, including our guys.”
Once again, Benton’s depth played a key role in the team’s success.
Austin Wills, who played No. 6 for the Rangers, shot an 80 to lead the team.
“That’s the thing — in golf, a lot of guys talk about one through six,” Norman said. “They’ve got their one. They’ve got their six. Wills, because of his regional score, played six today. He’s no six. He’s our 1-A, 1-B, 1-C, whatever you want to call it. We have a lot of 1-As and 1-Bs.”
Wills said the Mattoon course was a challenge.
“Narrow fairways — there are trees lining every fairway, close to the fairway,” he said. “And, the greens played quicker than they have for the last couple weeks. I think we adjusted well as the round went on.
“I think just knowing any putt could count, any certain shot could be the team to beat the team by one. Just having that in my mind helped the whole round, especially the last few holes.”
Also scoring for Benton were Derek Oxford (81), Robbie Moore (84) and Brendan Luster (87).
Massac County failed to advance as a team, but Brock Burnham, the regional medalist at Kokopelli last week, advanced with a 74.
Burnham managed the 74 despite getting sick halfway through the round.
“The pin placement was really the hardest part,” he said. “They put them in the corners of the greens and you had to hit the middle to do good. The tee shot was important too. If you didn’t hit the fairways, you didn’t have a chance at par or birdies. That’s what made it for me today. I had some good drives and iron shots.
“I try to play one hole at a time and not think about my score. I just played my game. At the end of the day it helped me.”
Other local players advancing as individuals are: Caleb Urshan, Centralia (79), Josh Green, Herrin (83) and Garrett Jenkins, Harrisburg (83).
The state tournament will be played Friday and Saturday at Prairie Vista Golf Course in Bloomington.