One year removed from a runner-up finish, the Center Grove boys golf team is back in the sectional winner’s circle.
With one junior and four sophomores in the starting lineup, the Trojans shot a blazing team score of 307 Monday to capture the title at Heartland Crossing Golf Links.
Center Grove has now won 16 sectionals, including six in the past seven years.
In an IHSAA realignment, the six Johnson County High Schools, which have regularly played the sectional at Hawk’s Tail of Greenfield, along with six other area teams including Roncalli, were moved to Heartland Crossing.
The top three teams and top three individuals on non-advancing teams qualified for Thursday’s Providence-hosted regional at Champions Pointe Golf Club in Henryville.
Joining Center Grove will be runner-up Roncalli, which finished with a 313, and third-place Greenwood, which tallied a 319.
Defending sectional champion Franklin placed sixth (332), followed by Whiteland (354). Indian Creek (367) was ninth, and Edinburgh (407) was 10th.
Franklin senior Noah Ludwig won medalist honors with a 2-over par 74.
“This course is a little bit harder than Hawk’s Tail, but we’ve played here about 10 times this season, so we’ve really got a good feel for it,” Ludwig said. “I was really hitting my irons well.
“I did miss some key putts on the front nine, so I could have been even or under par.”
Ludwig hopes to parlay his sectional win into a lengthy state tournament stay.
“This is my time to make a run at state and show everyone that I should be here,” Ludwig said.
Franklin coach Curt Holcroft applauded Ludwig’s season-long steady play.
“This year Noah has been fantastic getting the ball up and down when he’s around the green,” Holcroft said. “He may not hit every green in regulation, but what he does do is when he chips it up there, he gives himself a chance to roll a putt in from usually inside of 10 feet.”
Ludwig, along with Perry Meridian’s Dylan Windler, who finished with a 77, and Franklin Central’s Justin Smith, who carded a 78, all qualified for the regional.
Sectional champion Center Grove started strong and finished stronger.
All four players shot in the 70s, with junior Wes Kennell leading the way with a 76.
One stroke back were sophomores Christopher Heck, Austin Crowder and Zack Carabine, all with 77s. Sophomore Hayden Martin had a 78.
Kennell is confident the sectional is simply the first rung on the postseason ladder for the Trojans.
“We’ve kind of underachieved all year, and we’ve got a chip on our shoulder right now, so we’re really thinking about getting to state (finals),” Kennell said. “We’ve got our (starting) five down now, and we’re all confident, playing well and working together.”
Former Center Grove volleyball coach Deb McClurg, who became an assistant golf coach a year ago, is subbing for head coach Doug Keller, who is recovering from back surgery.
“The boys love the game, and even though the weather has been bad this spring, every day they’ve come ready to play and ready to improve,” McClurg said. “It’s still Doug’s team, and he’s here with us even though he’s not here physically.”
No stranger to winning championships, McClurg — who guided Center Grove’s volleyball team to the 2000 IHSAA state championship — gave the Trojans a pre-match motivational talk they apparently took to heart.
“This is what it’s all about,” McClurg said. “I said some of you are younger, but as you progress through your high school careers, you’ll realize what these tournaments mean.
“This team has kind of set the tone, so their expectations are high and hopefully we can keep going.”
Low scorer for Greenwood was senior Chandler Mitchell with a 77. Roncalli was led by Michael Lorenzano’s 75. For Whiteland, Jacob Lewis had an 82, while Indian Creek’s Paul Woodworth finished with an 83. Caleb Giles had a 90 for Edinburgh.