For the Daily Journal

Still a month away yet, but the top-ranked Center Grove Trojans are keeping their eye on the ultimate prize — an IHSAA boys golf state championship.

The Trojans were runners-up a year ago and third in 2015.

Competing in an 18-hole, three-team match Wednesday at Hillview Country Club, Center Grove came home with a team score of 294, besting No. 19 and host Franklin (301) and No. 7 Columbus North (305).

Earning medalist honors was Center Grove junior Noah Gillard, who carded a 4-under-par 68. He was followed by teammate Sam Jean and Franklin juniors Javan Johnson and Matt Jordan, all of whom shot 74.

Gillard, who finished second overall at last year’s state finals, said the team is in a good position to move forward.

“The mindset and the swing is always the same,” he said. “You’ve just got to be mentally prepared that it’s going to be a long day. You’ve got to hit the good shots, and when the bad shots come you’ve got to stay mentally strong. You can’t get down on yourself.

“We have a very special group here, and I think we can do a lot of good things. All the top five is capable of going low. I think we can be a scary team down the road once all of us start clicking.”

Center Grove’s first-year coach Matt Rodman echoed Gillard’s assessment.

“I love the youth that we have. Also we have some veteran leaders on this team with Noah, Ethan (Shepherd) and Sam but we definitely have a lot of good sophomores and freshmen as well.

“Pushing through the schedule is something we’ve really been working on and talking about during the last couple weeks of practice of just grinding. Even on a day when you don’t feel it, you’ve got to come out there and grind to put up a good number and try to avoid the mistakes.”

Shepherd, Luke DeHaven and Alex Heck all came in with scores of 76 for the Trojans.

For second-place Franklin, sophomore Blake McIntyre fired a 76, senior Kade Edwards a 77 and sophomore Emerson Downing an 80.

For Columbus North, seniors Spencer Fairbanks and Bryce Turner finished with a 76 and 77, respectively, while Drew Smith had a 78.

Columbus North coach Doug Bieker said he likes where his team is right now.

“I think we’re moving in the right direction. Our top five or six have really stepped up in the last week and a half.

“I think we’re capable of pushing a lot of teams. They definitely have the desire to get back to the state finals and once you’re there, anything can happen.”

Both Center Grove and Columbus North will be at the State Preview tournament on Saturday at Prairie View Golf Club in Carmel.