HARRISON — After falling to McMinn County three times by a total of five strokes this season, Walker Valley’s boys finally edged the Cherokees by a single stroke Thursday with a TSSAA State Championship berth on the line.
Unfortunately for the Mustangs, Cookeville was seven shots ahead of them.
“It is very disappointing,” declared Mustang coach Bob Williams. “We played great and finally beat them (McMinn), but Cookeville beat us both. That’s golf, my friend.”
Not only did the Mustangs miss out on a chance to return for a second straight state tournament, but none of the Walker Valley boys earned an individual spot in the TSSAA event for the first time in many years.
The story was only a little better for the Lady Mustangs, who lost in a heartbreaking playoff, but did have junior Katie Bishop earn a spot in her second straight state tournament as an individual.
After Walker Valley and the Cookeville girls were tied at the end of the regulation 18 holes, an extra hole was needed before the state berth went to the Lady Cavaliers.
“We ‘kissed our sister,’ then lost in a playoff by a stroke,” bemoaned Williams. “I hate it for our kids, especially our seniors. We’ve worked so hard, and then to miss out like that hurts.”
“Katie (Bishop) played well. She kept my streak alive,” proclaimed Williams, who has had at least one golfer in the state tournament each of his seven years at the Walker Valley helm. Bishop carded an 81 on the Bear Trace course for second low-medalist honors, just two shots behind Ooltewah’s Samantha Griffin, who fired a 78.
It will be Bishop’s second straight state tournament after helping the Lady Mustangs to a team runner-up finish last fall.
Bradley Central’s Chase Montgomery will be the only other county golfer in the state field after he earned a berth with the day’s second best score with a 1-over-par 73.
Along with birdies on Nos. 12, 14 and 17 in regulation, the Bear junior captured second-low medalist honors after winning a four-way playoff with a birdie on the third extra hole.
“Chase (Montgomery) took a big step forward,” praised Bear coach Jim Kibler. “It was amazing. Every Walker Valley and Cleveland player and their parents followed him around during the playoff, cheering him on.”
The AAA state tournament will once again be held at the WillowBrook Country Club in Manchester, Sept. 25-26.
Along with the two Cookeville teams representing the region at the state event, Bishop and Montgomery will be joined by Griffin (78), White County’s Shelby Johnson (80), Holee Sanders (84) of Coffee County, McMinn County’s Cody Housley (73), and Nicholas Powell (73) of Warren County, in the individual division.
“The boys competition was so good that the guys who shot 2-over didn’t make the state tournament,” commented Cleveland High coach Nick Cantrell.
Walker Valley’s 305 was led by junior Garrett Cantrell’s 3-over 75, while classmate Jordan Leggett and freshman Dylan Lillard were right on his heels with 76s. Junior Hunter Carroll rounded out the team score with a 78.
“The kids have played great all year. To come so close and not make it hurts, but the good news is we are only losing one senior off both teams,” Williams expressed. “We’ve talked all season long about having your best day in the region tournament. We did, but so did Cookeville.”
The Cavaliers earned the top spot with Travis Bumbalough shooting 73, Tanner Dowland firing 74, Robert Panker carding a 75 and Sean Conally with a 76.
“They (Cookeville) got to throw out a 78,” related Cantrell.
McMinn County put together a 306 behind Housley’s 73, Will Zabo’s 75, Drew Mayes’ 78 and an 80 from Will Thompson.
Cleveland finished with a 326 in the event.
Senior Carson Griffin and junior Conner Caprara both shot 5-over 77s, while Chris Bryant helped out with an 85 and Rylan Parker an 87.
“We improved our score from Monday (in the District 5-AAA Tournament) by 14 strokes and were still 28 strokes off the pace,” commented coach Cantrell.
In the girls’ action, Walker Valley and Cookeville both fired 171 in regulation.
Bishop’s 81 led the Lady Mustangs, while freshman Katie Medley and senior Brittani Pederson both shot 90s.
The Lady Cavaliers were just a shot apart with Anna Cunningham shooting 85 and Logan Cass adding an 86.
On the first playoff hole Cookeville went par-bogey, while Walker Valley countered with a par-double bogey.
In other girls’ scores, Bradley Central senior Sloane Rakestraw posted an 86, while Lady Raider sophomore Heidi Barringer shot a 92.