Monday’s final Two Rivers 3A Conference boys golf match of the season didn’t carry much intrigue before the first tee ball was struck. Corinth Holders had already wrapped up its second consecutive team championship and South Johnston junior Patrick Stephenson was well in hand of his third straight individual conference championship.
The results were the same as they have been all year: relatively easy wins.
For the day, the Pirates finished at 332, nine ahead of South Johnston, and Stephenson shot 72, an even-par round.
Triton posted a third-place finish (348), Western Harnett (361) was fourth, Smithfield-Selma fifth (364) and Cleveland sixth (371).
“They’ve been even closer than I thought they would be,” said Corinth Holders coach Theresa Gale. “There were no surprises, but the consistency and evenness of these guys is so steady. It happened again today, 82, 82, 84, 84, 86 and 87.
“It’s been like that all year. These guys are so close and feed off of each other.”
Corinth Holders’ scoring average in the league’s matches was 323.7, 22 ahead of runner-up South Johnston. Triton finished third overall, earning the league’s last bid to Monday’s 3A Eastern Regional in Wilson.
Cleveland was fifth on the season and Smithfield-Selma sixth. The Rams and Spartans will be represented at the regional, however. Patrick Schweitz of Cleveland (fifth in the conference), teammate Bryson Peter (11th) and Ethan Faulconer of Smithfield-Selma (ninth) earned individual bids, along with Western Harnett’s Ret Taylor.
Nick Routhier and Kellen LaBonte finished with the same stroke average (80.167) for Corinth Holders, tying for second place in the league behind Stephenson. Monty Fields (81.6) and Sam Baxter (82.0) finished seventh and eighth, individually, for the Pirates.
The team’s consistency and balance is why Gale said she doesn’t anticipate giving out any individual player awards at the end of the season for the second consecutive season. Instead, the Pirates will just have to look at another conference championship reward in the trophy case.
Going forward, the Pirates know they will probably need to find a few more scores in the 70s if they want to advance to the state championships as a team.
“We need that one or two in the 70s, for sure,” Gale said. “If we play like we did two weeks ago, we’ll be in great shape.”
The Pirates shot a 306 team total at Riverwood that week, the kind of score it takes to contend for a regional championship or a state championships team berth.
Stephenson’s 72 on Monday was good enough to win by eight shots but it wasn’t what he was looking for in his final local high school round of the season – especially at a course like Reedy Creek, which most Johnston County prep golfers know like the back of their hand because of how often it pops up on the schedule. For example, the last time Stephenson was at Reedy Creek he was 7-under through 16 holes while playing with his dad when darkness ended their round.
“My short game let me down a little, but I’ve been hitting my irons very well,” Stephenson said of Monday’s play.
On the sixth hole, he got a bit of bad luck when his approach hit the flagstick, almost going straight in, but instead bouncing back and rolling just off the front of the green. He had to settle for a par instead of an ace.
After committing to East Carolina in February, Stephenson has been able to concentrate more on improving his game rather than pondering where he’d spend the years 2016-20 in school.
“I just knew that was where I needed to play and the place where I felt like I could do my best,” Stephenson said of ECU. “I was never worried about making a college decision. I felt like I always knew I’d play somewhere. The one difference now is that if I have a bad day, I’m not going to be overly upset.”
He hopes to have a better short game this month as the high school season winds down and the summer touring season begins.
“I’ve worked on the short game a lot, trying to improve that, but just getting everything really ready for college golf,” Stephenson said. “I know there’s going to be a big jump in length on the college courses.”
Stephenson, who has a regional individual runner-up already on his resume from 2013 and played in the U.S. Amateur last summer, knows Monday’s round will be the most important so far of his high school season this year.
“You just have to take the same approach just like it’s any other tournament,” Stephenson said of the regional format. “Nothing from the season or before carries over to that one day. It’s just 18 holes to decide what happens next.”