A stroke here and a stroke there makes all the difference toward continuing in the postseason.
For seventh-ranked Center Grove, everything was going its way making the nine-hole turn during Thursday’s IHSAA boys golf regional at Champions Pointe Golf Club in Henryville.
In fact, the Trojans had a 5-stroke lead against No. 2 Columbus North.
But in the end, the Trojans settled for a second-place finish, which still produced a desired result.
For the first time since 2008, Center Grove, with a team score of 301, has advanced to state finals, scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday, at The Legends Golf Club in Franklin.
Columbus North finished first in the 18-team field with a score of 298. Bloomington South was third with a score of 303. The top three teams advance to the state finals.
“We got off to a great start and the kids played really well,” said first-year Center Grove coach Jim Williams, who also coaches the girls varsity team. “It is literally a grind to go all the way through this tournament, especially in a field like this. We’ve talked all season long and the kids will tell you we’ve been focusing on protecting each other’s back.
“When one guy is down another one is up and that’s the way the whole season has been for us. Everyone has had their day under the sun.”
As for the competition against Columbus North, Thursday’s regional results have been no different than other events each one has played in. The teams have played close matches during tournaments throughout the season.
“We’ve gone back and forth all season long. One week we’ll get them, and after today, they’re one up on us,” Williams said. “Now, we’ve got to try and pay them back next week in the state finals.
“The kids get psyched up to play them because they know they’re going to be playing against good quality players.”
Leading the way for the Trojans with a 1-under-par 71 was junior Christopher Heck.
From start to finish, Heck was solid, not only in his consistent play but his unshakeable approach to the game.
“I was able to hit a lot of fairways and a lot greens in my approach shots, make a bunch of two-putts, pars and roll in a few birdies when I could,” Heck said. “This is my second regional. The first one I was a little nervous, but I feel at home out here and love this course. It has a great atmosphere.
“With a number of great teams here, it feels great to get out (advance). Hard work pays off and after this, we’ll put our heads down and keep grinding and keep working and go on from here.”
Right behind Heck with a pair of 77s were juniors Zack Carrabine and Hayden Martin.
Martin birdied the 18th hole to nail down second place, two strokes ahead of Bloomington South.
Meanwhile, junior Austin Crowder started fast and finished with a 4-over 76, while senior Wes Kennell carded an 83.
Franklin juniors Jacob Hash and Spencer Wood competed as individuals but came up short in advancing to the state finals.
Hash fired a 37 on the front nine and a 40 on the back nine for an 82, while Wood came home with an 87.
Grizzly Cubs coach Curt Holcroft said the experience the two players have gotten by playing with some of the best golfers in the state will go a long way toward improving next year.
“They don’t get panicked on the course. They’re very even-keeled and just kind of keep plodding along and keep doing what they need to do,” Holcroft said. “They’re going to bring back things to the other kids and hopefully have that thirst to get back here not only as individuals but also as a team.
“We definitely have the makings of doing that with the players we have returning next year.”
Williams is more than delighted the team will be close to home for the finals next week.
“We’ll put in a couple practice rounds, but we know The Legends inside and out,” he said. “Anything can happen out there but I feel good about our chances. I think we can win the whole tournament.”