CARBONDLE — Josie Sykes beat the two-time defending champion Tia Kimbrough from Belleville Althoff by two strokes while the Crusaders won their eighth straight team title at the South Seven Conference girls golf championship hosted by Hickory Ridge Golf Center.

“It was kind of a rough over-all day, but at the end it was all good,” Sykes said. “Winning the conference is definitely a good thing.”

Sykes carded an 84, four strokes better than her 2016 score when she finished second to Kimbrough by three strokes. When the two played against each other in the South Seven Preview match held at Hickory Ridge on Aug. 14, Sykes also won by two strokes.

“I definitely knew it was going to come down to Tia and me after playing her at the Preview and beating her,” Sykes said. “It’s always fun playing with Tia because it brings out the competition in both of us. So getting up this morning I thought I had a chance to win because I know Tia so well.”

Sykes and Kimbrough played in the same foursome and Sykes got off to a rough start with bogies on three of the first five holes to fall behind by two strokes.

“I figured today would not be great, but I tried to keep it together and hope for the best,” Sykes said. “When Tia had her troubles on a couple holes I focused on my game to keep it together.”

Her struggles continued with back-to-back bogies on holes six and seven, but despite losing two more strokes Sykes actually took the lead by four strokes when Kimbrough suffered a triple bogey on six and a quintuple bogey on seven.

“On six I hit into a hazard and it just multiplied,” Kimbrough said. “On seven I hit it right in front of the lip of the bunker and I just couldn’t get it out. The only thing to do after that was to forget about it and play on and I’m glad I was able to finish."

Both girls finished the front nine with a par on eight and a bogey on nine, so Sykes held onto her four-stroke lead at the turn.

“My only thoughts at the turn was I had to forget about the front nine because I was about to play a new nine and she could definitely bring it back,” Sykes said. “So we went from nine directly to 10 and didn’t stop because I had to keep the groove going.”

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Sykes continued to hold her lead for the first two holes on the back nine, but Kimbrough shaved one stroke off when Sykes had a double bogey on a 12 and Kimbrough suffered only a single bogey.

“Bad shots tend to get into your head, but I had to keep it together so I try not to think about them,” Sykes said.

Kimbrough cut the lead to one stroke with a par on 15 and a bogey on 16 while Sykes suffered a bogey on 15 and a double bogey on 16.

“At the turn I knew I had to make birdies on the back nine, but that didn’t happen,” Kimbrough said. “When I pulled within one I was thinking I maybe had a chance, but it didn’t work out today.”

With two holes to go, Sykes closed out her round with a par on 17 and a bogey on 18 to nail down the senior’s first conference title as the two-time champ faltered with bogies on both holes. Sykes recently verbally signed with Rend Lake College.

As a team, Belleville Althoff continued its dominance with its eighth straight title. The Crusaders finished with a team score of 365 to win the title by 51 strokes over Marion (416). Centralia finished third (454) and Carbondale fourth (481).

“The South Seven is pretty tough with similar teams, so it’s a good conference for Althoff to be in,” said first-year Althoff coach Gary Mackin. “The girls always get up for the conference championship. Hickory Ridge is a challenging course, but after their practice round yesterday I can’t say we had any surprises today. I saw consistency in my top three players and my fifth player has come on real well.”

The Crusaders placed five golfers on the All-Conference Team with Kimbrough earning the honor for the fourth time. Earning their third consecutive all-conference honors were seniors Megan Lewis (3rd-90) and Maggie Tiernan (4th-91) and making the team for the second straight year were senior Kendyl Santos (6th-98) and junior Annie Pusa (9th-106).

Marion placed three golfers on the all-conference team with junior Olivia Gray finishing fifth (97) and sophomore Chloe Thomas seventh (101) to earn all-conference honors for the second time and sophomore Kelsey Sinks eighth (105) for her first. Rounding out the all-conference team coming in 10th was Centralia senior Lexi Sligar (109).

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