West Johnston golf coach Alan Bunch and his team, the defending Greater Neuse River 4A Conference champions, are chasing Harnett Central this season.
The Wildcats lost the conference’s top golfer from a year ago, Scott Freeman, but they still are battling Garner for the second spot in the league standings at the midway point of the regular season.
West Johnston put together its third second-place team finish of the season Wednesday in a league match at River Ridge Golf Club, totaling 323 strokes for 18 holes to finish eight strokes behind Harnett Central. The Trojans have won the first four conference matches this season.
Garner was third with a 332 total and Clayton fourth at 341.
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“Harnett Central is a very good team,” Bunch said. “They have a lot of guys back and they are playing really, really well.
“We knew we would have a slight chance to finish in the top couple this year. I have four starters back and we are having fun. We are going to be able to go to the regionals for the fifth year in a row.”
Ben Lacombe, a senior, led the Wildcats on Wednesday, shooting a 77 on the par-72 River Ridge course on a damp, cool day. That was good enough for fourth individually.
“I was doing everything well,” Lacombe said. “I was hitting all of my shots straight and made some nice long putts. (The approach shots) were sticking pretty well but the greens were still rolling pretty fast.
“I felt great even though it was really cold.”
Lacombe had three birdies on the day, including a memorable one on the 16th hole – a long par-4 with a green that is guarded by water in front. Lacombe put his second shot on the green and rolled in a 40-footer for a 3.
Harnett Central posted a 315 and had two of the top three individuals – medalist Alex Molgaard, who shot a par 72, and third-place finisher Jacob Lowe at 75. Molgaard, a senior, had finished second in two of the first three matches of the season.
“I putted very well today,” Molgaard said. “I hit some close (approach) shots on the back nine and made the putts for birdie. I was hitting it within 10 feet and making the putts.”
It’s been that kind of season for Harnett Central, which came into Wednesday’s match with four golfers in the top 10 in the league’s individual standings.
“Alex Molgaard has been solid all year and Jacob Lowe is a freshman with a lot of potential,” said Harnett Central coach Jody Milliron. “But the middle golfers have really been holding us together.
“It would be our first conference championship in more than 10 years. I have had some good teams but when we were strong, Clayton had better teams. Hopefully we can capitalize on this opportunity.”
Rolesville sophomore Blake McShea, who was the conference’s individual leader coming into the match, finished second with a 74.
“I felt like I was playing really well through the front,” McShea said. “I was two-under through 16 on the back but I chunked that one (shot) and couldn’t really get it back together. I ended up having a 40 on the back.
“I knew I was going to start playing well sooner or later because I have been putting in the work.”
Garner finished third for the third time in four matches and is eying a regional berth. The top four teams from the conference qualify for the regional.
“We are hanging tough in the third spot,” Garner coach Chuck Proffitt said. “Today, it being our home course, would have been a good day to try to get No. 1 but when you have a 72 and a 75 out there, it’s tough.
“Today our scores were better than expected. They are improving and that is all I can ask for.”
Matteo Ceyrolles led Garner with an 81 and Nick Barbare had an 82.
Clayton was led by junior Matt King, who was fifth individually with a 78.
“I was hitting the ball pretty well,” King said. “It was a pretty good day for me.”
Knightdale finished fifth in the team standings, with Justin Smith’s 79 leading the way.
Rolesville was sixth, Southeast Raleigh seventh and East Wake eighth.