EFFINGHAM — Early this season, the Carmi-White County boys golf team won a match but weren’t particularly happy with how they play. To coach Trey Mason, it almost felt like they were treating it as a loss.
So when they got back to the school, Mason stood up in front of their mini-bus and made a speech.
“You guys are good enough that this bus is going to Bloomington,” he said, referring to the site of the Class 1A Tournament. “I asked who wants to go with me. All of them raised their hand.”
Gas it up.
On Thursday, when Mason guns that bus northwest for the state tournament, all hands will be on deck, including Monday’s St. Anthony Sectional champion.
Freshman Oakley Gee carded an even-par 72 for a one-stroke win over Chester’s Jarrett James, enabling the Bulldogs to edge Trico Regional champ West Frankfort by four shots for third place in the team standings. Only the top three teams move on to the state tourney.
That Carmi-White County is doing so can be attributed to a couple of things. One, Mason had a pep talk of sorts with his players when they were in sixth place and starting to run out of holes. Secondly, West Frankfort stumbled down the stretch in a manner that Mason predicted.
“I talked to two or three of my guys and they were of the mindset that they were going to start bombing drives,” he said. “I told them, ‘No, you can’t, you have to grind on every shot. I really feel that’s what they did. They just hung around and worked for every shot.”
Their leader was the most callow of players, albeit one whose game won’t remind you of a 14-year old. After a bogey-double bogey finish to his front nine that might have discouraged many players two and three times his age, Gee turned in a 1-under 35 on the back nine.
The key shot came on 17, when he stuffed a wedge to what he termed kick-in distance for the birdie that enabled his round to hold up as the winner. Gee finished pretty early, then sat back as the contenders fired and fell back.
“It means a lot, because it’s been a goal of mine for a long time now,” Gee said. “My wedges were good, my irons were good. I was upset with it, but I didn’t let it show. I just figured it was time to start a new nine.
“Golf is 90 percent or more mental, and that’s something I’ve been working on in the past year or so. It’s made a huge difference in my game.”
While Gee and the Bulldogs came up big, the Redbirds and their five seniors couldn’t quite concoct the finish for which they were looking. Coach Mike Karoski’s team actually finished at 331, a shot better than the mark with which they won the regionals on Tuesday, but weren’t able to avoid trouble on 16, 17 and 18.
“We were second or third literally all day long, and the last two or three holes, it seemed like we hit a speed bump,” Karoski said. “It’s just a little bit disappointing, especially when you’ve got five seniors. I wanted them to be able to make it to state as a team.”
West Frankfort settled for one individual qualifier, Tyson Elko, whose 76 was good for fourth place. Hillsboro’s Alex White placed third with a 74, helping his team edge tournament host St. Anthony 317-321 for the team title.
Hamilton County’s Austyn Downen (78), Nashville’s Kelton Harre (80) and Zeigler-Royalton’s Dalton Saeger (81) earned individual spots to the state tournament. Joining them will be Noah Smith of Eldorado and Josh McGill of Vienna, who each shot 82 and then survived a four-man playoff for the last two individual spots at Bloomington.