Wildcats avoid danger, swing to crown

Photos by Olivia Corya/The Herald
Jasper’s MeKenzie Hilsmeyer lofted a shot onto the putting green during the golf sectional Saturday at Jasper Municipal Golf Course. Hilsmeyer carded a 77, second best in the field, in leading the eighth-ranked Wildcats (336) to their fourth sectional crown in five years. For a gallery of photos, click here.

By JOE JASINSKI
Herald Sports Writer

JASPER — Just second before, Steve Milligan received a phone call from the clubhouse with the previous group’s scores.

By the coach’s calculations, Jasper’s sectional hopes were only salvagable if MeKenzie Hilsmeyer happened to sink the 20-foot downhill doozy she now eyed on the 18th green.

Pressure? Please.

Hilsmeyer buried the birdie putt, and while Castle’s Kayla Katterhenry drilled her tricky bender as well — which Milligan thought at the time had won the Knights the match — the eighth-ranked Wildcats’ lead was adequate enough to edge out No. 13 Castle 336 to 343, to the relief of Milligan, who didn’t realize the gap, sealing the girls golf sectional victory around 7 p.m. Saturday night at Jasper Municipal Golf Course.

A veteran Southridge team and a young Forest Park squad finished fourth and fifth, respectively, while Springs Valley earned third.

The win was Jasper’s fourth sectional crown in five years and came a year after Castle ended the Wildcats' four-year streak.

After a long twelve months, seizing the trophy came not a moment too soon, Hilsmeyer said.

“After (the Castle golfers) got their ribbons and they walked away and the trophy was there and we were next, I was kind of like, ‘Thank  God.’ It’s about time,” said Hilsmeyer, who recalled sitting in her car following last year’s sectional, dumbfounded and in disbelief.

The senior posted a 6-over-par 77, capped by a 37 on the course’s nightmarish back nine, shooting 1-under on the final four holes. While Katterhenry (73) was the only golfer to have a better round, Hilsmeyer’s self-assessment was laughably modest.

“Started off ... OK,” she said. “It just was going OK all day. Not how I wanted it. I ended with a really good birdie putt, so ...”

Horney

So Jasper hoists the trophy. Thanks also to third-place finisher Emily Horney, whose 84, along with Annie Getzin’s 85, could have made the difference, said Milligan, who proudly noted that his team has now won 109 individual matches on the season, by his count.

Records aside, his view remains simple.

“This team this year is a very, very good team,” said Milligan, who added that it’s also the loosest bunch he’s ever coached.

For Southridge (424), the season came to an end for all but two of its golfers, as Jessica Oser posted a team-best 97 and Alli Bounds compiled a 98, both scores good enough to send them to this Saturday’s regional at Eagle Valley Golf Course in Evansville as individual competitors.

Southridge’s Jessica Oser watched one of her shots as she fired a team-best 97. Southridge posted a team score of 424, finishing fourth in the field, one place ahead of Forest Park.

The five Raiders who took to the course Saturday are all seniors. For Oser, who shot no worse than bogey on any of the four par-3 holes, the last hurrah was special, she said.

“It’s been a blast. ... We’re so hyper all the time, it just makes everything fun. Especially the bus rides,” said Oser, who noted that the Saturday’s bus ride was packed with singing and dancing.  “Probably the best times the whole season.”

For Raider coach Phil Olinger, Oser’s round was a testament to perseverance, on a course that seems to find pleasure in dashing hopes.

“She had a great attitude today,” the first-year coach said. “She had a few bad holes but she bounced right back after them. That’s how you do good here at Muni. You just don’t give up and keep playing.”

Exactly the sentiment shared by most. As for preparation, well, good luck, Oser said.

“Honestly, you really can’t (prepare),” Oser said bluntly. “You just have to go in thinking positive. If you have a bad shot, you can still make up for it. So it all depends how you’re thinking on that specific hole.”

It’s unrelenting and it makes you pay, Forest Park coach Bryce Morrison said.

“Usually on most courses, you make a bad shot, it might cost you a stroke or two,” he said. “On this course, one bad shot, it tears you up.”

Perhaps more than any hole, the par-4 13th, where the average score was 8.1, devastated the field in large part because of the pond that separates fairway from green. No drop zone was marked on the green-side, meaning shots in the water were followed by drops on the pond’s far side.

“You had five groups on that one hole at one point,” Heritage Hills coach Dave Jochim said. “One in the fairway, three on the tee box and one just trying to get over that water.”

Eryn Jochim, the first Heritage Hills golfer to compete in sectional since Crissy Higgins in 2003, finished with a 128 and saw the postseason round as “just one step forward” in the Patriots’ progression as a team, the freshman said.

For her father, the round was “sometimes a lot of joy, sometimes it was frustration,” said Dave Jochim, whom Eryn recalled almost falling down twice on the course while helping another player find her ball. “Typical father-daughter stuff.”

Disregarding her father’s forewarning, Jochim decided to play her second shot on No. 13 right over the pond.

Kerplunk.

It was the only ball she lost all day, as she cleared the hazard on her second try.

As to Forest Park’s five sectional participants, who will all presumably return next season, Morrison asked a simple favor: Hang the scorecard on the wall for offseason motivation.

“Murphy’s law. Everything that could go wrong today…” said Morrison, whose team shot some 50 strokes fewer at the Pocket Athletic Conference invitational two weeks ago. “There’s a point where you just kind of have to smile and go with it.”

The Rangers (473) were led by Amie Weyer (108), who noted that while scores weren’t ideal, the course experience gained could prove pivotal a year from now. Where the Rangers were young this season, the departure of other area teams’ seniors will make the Rangers “veterans of the course,” Weyer said.

For the Rangers, hope is apparent. Morrison will organize weekly one-hour “open gym” times at Ferdinand’s indoor golf complex for his players, who now all have their driver’s licenses.

“They don’t have to rely on their parents anymore, that’s a big deal, you know?” the coach said jokingly. “They don’t have the excuses anymore.”

Next week presents Jasper’s most compelling challenge to date: A field that Milligan predicts will have six ranked teams on a course, where the Wildcats posted have posted a 298 and a 310 already this season.

Hilsmeyer played her first match of the season, the Evansville Central Invitational, at Eagle Valley.

She burned a 68.

“We’re all ready to go and have that day again,” said Hilsmeyer, minutes before heading back to the first tee for a cooldown round with Getzin.

Phase one complete. And now a mere 18 holes remain between Jasper and its third straight trip to the state finals.

“I’ve been told this: As a coach, you go (to state) one time, it’s an great honor,’” Milligan said. “I don’t know how many times I’ve been there. … Every time I go there, I get on my feet and kiss the ground. It’s just the greatest honor. Eighteen holes away from taking these girls back to the state finals. And that’s what I want to do.”

Contact Joe Jasinski at jjasinski@dcherald.com.




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