A broken-down activity bus proved to be the only thing not working Friday for the Pinecrest golf team.
The Patriots were forced to leave the faulty vehicle behind in the parking lot of The Neuse Golf Club in favor of a borrowed Johnston County bus that carried a happy squad – and plenty of hardware – back to Southern Pines.
Pinecrest, the defending 4A state team champion, racked up 291 strokes to outlast three schools by 17 shots for the top spot at the Ninth Annual Neuse High School Invitational, which featured a strong field of 112 players.
“We haven’t won this tournament as long as I’ve been coach, so it’s nice to be able to get this,’’ Pinecrest co-skipper Sandy Sackmann said. “We love coming here, and we love the golf course. And, of course, we like to see those low scores.’’
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No Patriot scored lower than senior Eric Bae, who won the 4A individual crown in 2015. Bae, a Wake Forest University signee, tied with Blake Wagoner, of Charlotte-area Hough, with a 2-under-par 70. A scoreboard playoff was utilized, and Bae was declared the winner with a better score (par-4) compared with Wagoner’s bogey on the No. 1 handicap 16th hole.
Bae overcame some early scrambles and got to 3-under before three-putting the 13th and 14th holes for bogeys. The hole that would eventually propel Bae to the top was the par-5 17th, which Bae birdied after nailing a second-shot approach to within 25 feet. He finished with a par on the difficult, uphill 18th after his approach flew to within 20 feet.
“I didn’t strike the ball well on the front nine but putted well,’’ Bae said. “Then I three-putted twice and just tried to play my game. If I play well and am able to win, that’s good.’’
Pinecrest’s James Sugg was one stroke behind at 71, and South Johnston senior Patrick Stephenson tied for fourth place with a 72.
“I didn’t hit it as well as I could,’’ said Stephenson, who has signed with East Carolina University. “I just kind of battled around. I probably left three or four strokes out there, but a 72 isn’t bad.’’
Stephenson burst onto the state scene in 2015 when he shot a blistering, career-best 65 on the final day of the 36-hole 3A Finals. That dash of heroics pushed Stephenson all the way up to second place overall.
“That round has given me confidence,’’ Stephenson said. “I’ve shot low rounds before like 69 or 70, but it’s a little different when it’s on the second day of the states when you know you have to make something happen.”
Broughton junior Jimbo Stanley, who has verbally committed to join Stephenson at ECU, was the top Wake County individual with a 73. That number was good enough for a tie for sixth place with Myers Park’s Henry Shimp, a Stanford signee.
Stanley, who was playing in a foursome alongside Bae, was perfect in fairways hit and greens in regulation on the front nine. Stanley was 2-under at the turn, but couldn’t sustain the momentum over the back nine, although he did rally to make a birdie at No. 17.
“It was nice to get off to that good start, but I got back into some bad habits and ended up making four bogeys in seven holes on the back nine,’’ Stanley said. “But I did get one back on 17, so I didn’t throw it all away.’’
Stanley finished 17th overall at last year’s 4A states and was part of a Capitals’ squad that took second as a team behind Pinecrest. Broughton was the state team champion in 2012 and 2014 under veteran coach Anderson Marlowe.
“Hopefully, we can make it back to the state again this time,’’ Stanley said. “If we don’t, I still hope to qualify (as an at-large performer) and be able to contend.’’
Hough, last year’s Neuse team champion, was part of a three-school grouping for second place at 308, along with Broughton Gold and Charlotte Providence.