SPARTA — Although playing an unknown, tough golf course proved extremely difficult Thursday, a pair of local high school players turned in tremendous efforts to earn a spot in the TSSAA Class AAA State Championships.
Walker Valley’s Kyle Limburg won a sudden-death playoff to advance, while Cleveland High’s Heidi Barringer kept up a recent hot streak to claim her spot as an individual in the girls’ state tournament.
After rain hampered Wednesday’s practice round at the RiverWatch Golf Club on Center Hill Lake outside Sparta, the local linksters traveled to the unfamiliar course to battle the top golfer from District 6-AAA in the Region 3-AAA Tournament Thursday.
With only seven of the event’s 68 participants able to break 80, and the low-medalist of the day shooting a 3-over-par 75, the scores for the 18-event were the highest they’ve been in several years as Cookeville won the boys’ team title with a 317 and Warren County took the girls with a 161.
Walker Valley finished third in both sides of the competition with the Mustangs firing a 334 and Lady Mustangs a 179. The host White County girls finished second with a 169, while the East Hamilton boys fired a 331 for the boys’ runner-up trophy.
With just the top teams and four individuals, who were not on the title squads, advancing to the state tournament, the local hopes then fell to players themselves.
Limburg fired an 8-over-par 80 during regulation, tying him for third place with Tucker Venable from East Hamilton and White County’s Haden Welch.
The trio went back out to battle for the lone remaining individual state berth and Welch was eliminated on the first hole as he bogeyed while Limburg and Venable each parred.
On the second playoff hole, Limburg hit a perfect drive and chipped up to within six feet of the cup. Meanwhile Venable pushed his tee shot right and after his approach shot, drained a 30-foot putt for par. Limburg, who saw his birdie attempt slide five feet past the hole, stepped back up and drained his par to force another hole.
Once again Limburg was able to nail another strong tee shot and pitch up within six feet of the hole, but this time after Venable’s putt attempt came up a couple of inches shy, the Mustang junior drained his birdie putt to earn his first state tournament bid.
“He was clutch,” declared WV coach Bob Williams. “He told be before the playoff that he could feel his heart beating through his shirt. He was playing No. 5 for us today and he really came through.”
“I’m really proud of him. He has really come a long way this season,” the Mustang mentor expressed. “Earlier in the year he was having to qualify to play in matches, but now he’s the only one going to the state.”
“It (RiverWatch) was a really tough course to walk and was really playing tough and had a couple of confusing rules,” Williams related. “These we some of the highest scores we’ve had in a region tournament in a long time.”
Cleveland coach Nick Cantrell echoed Williams’ comments. “They had two different colored penalty marker beside each other in spots. It was confusing. Some parts of the woods were a lateral drop and other parts you were to hit a provisional.”
The difficulties didn’t slow down Barringer though, as she became the first Lady Raider to advance to the state championships since her sister Kileigh did so four years ago.
“Heidi came within three or four strokes of qualifying last year, but she has really put it together the last month and has been playing well,” coach Cantrell praised. “She shot a career-best 76 at Bear Trace in the district, plus she shot a 35 (half-round) at Springbrook and a 37 in another match at the end of the season.”
Barringer’s 83 Thursday including a triple bogey on the final hole. “She hit into the (sand) trap and really had an unplayable lie, but she knew she had a few strokes to play with. She went ahead and played it and was able to finish well enough for fourth place overall.”
Ooltewah’s Samantha Griffith earned another state tournament trip with an 82, while White County’s Shelby Johnson shot a 79 and Cookeville’s Anna Cunningham an 84 for the other two individual slots.
Danny Gleeson of Ooltewah and East Hamilton’s Logan Price both fired 76s, while White County’s Cameron Bruce had a 78 for the other three boys’ spots at the state event.
Cleveland’s Tucker Jones (83), along with Walker Valley’s Dylan Lillard (83), Garrett Cantrell (84) and Katie Bishop (85), just missed TSSAA championship berths, while Mustang Jordan Leggett (87) wasn’t very far back.
Other local participants included Mustang Corey Rollins (93), Lady Mustangs Kasey Gregg (94) and Kelsey Cassada (96), as well as Bradley Central’s Olivia Williams (100) and MaKenzie Randolph (125).
The TSSAA Class AA State Tournament will be held Oct 8-9 at the WillowBrook course in Manchester. Polk County’s Emily Massengill and Ryan Droke will represent the local area in the Class A-AA State Championships Oct. 1-2.