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Gainesville sweeps Region 8-AAAAA golf championships

Red Elephants' Williams, Callahan win individual titles

POSTED: April 24, 2014 8:27 p.m.

Meg Callahan’s experience in playoff scenarios finally paid off.

Playing in her third straight region tournament playoff, the Gainesville senior came out on the right side of things for the first time. She parred on the first sudden-death hole to edge teammate Ashleigh Bishop and win the Region 8-AAAAA girls individual title Thursday at Chattahoochee Golf Club.

Callahan and Bishop tied at 76 to lead the girls field through 18 holes, and the Lady Red Elephants took home the team title with a season-best 232.

“I was more comfortable, but I was little bit nervous because Ashleigh is a great player,” Callahan said. “She hits the ball well, she can putt. She’s so confident, and she’s one of my teammates. Either way, we wouldn’t have lost as a team.”

Gainesville’s boys won their fourth straight region title with a team score of 290, and Nathan Williams improved on last year’s runner-up finish by carding a 2-under 70 to win the boys individual title and claim his first high school victory.

Both teams qualified for the Class AAAAA state meet, which will be played May 19 at separate courses in Augusta.

“This year, we’ve really been trying to build our mental toughness and compete against ourselves,” Callahan said. “Going into state, whether we win or not, as long as we play like we know we can play, we’ll be satisfied.”

Callahan kept it simple on the way to her first region title, two-putting the par-4 No. 10 on the first playoff hole. Bishop approached the green with a chip shot, then lipped out her par putt to bogey the hole.

Just like that, three years of playoff frustration came to an end for Callahan. She lost to teammate Madeline Harr in the same fashion in 2012, then lost again to Winder-Barrow’s Savannah Rainbolt last year. At the Hall County Championships last month, Harr beat Callahan and teammate Morgan Reece in a three-way playoff.

“It’s just competition, and you just have to go into it wanting to win,” Callahan said .”I love my teammates to death, but it’s just competition.”

The Lady Red Elephants’ team score included identical front and back nine scores for Callahan and Bishop, followed by Reece’s 80. Harr’s 81 didn’t factor into the score, but was still fourth overall.

Gainesville finished 67 strokes ahead of Flowery Branch’s 299, which qualified the Lady Falcons for the Class AAAAA sectionals on May 5 at Canongate Golf Club in Sharpsburg.

“I knew what was coming today, because I know they all want to do so well, and they all want their name on the wall in the locker room,” Lady Red Elephants coach Clay McDonald said. “I wanted them to have that experience of being focused all day. It’s six hours out there. It’s tough.”

The 2012 state champions are peaking at just the right time, having shot a 236 Saturday in tough weather at the Brookwood Invitational in Snellville. That was the team’s lowest total of the season until today.

A challenging Jones Creek Golf Course in Evans is the final high school venue for Callahan, Harr and Reece, who graduate this year.

“When you break golf down to its simplest form, it’s an individual sport,” McDonald said. “That’s an invaluable piece of advice for them, but I remind them to go play their game.

“At the end of the day, we’ll throw them all together and come up with a team score. But you can’t worry about what your teammate’s doing or not doing. Personally I believe it’s just too much pressure to put on yourself.”

Williams couldn’t help but feel anxious when his round ended in the boys competition. With all of Gainesville’s golfers done except Spencer Ralston, he was forced to wait for the two-time defending Hall County champion’s scorecard to reach the leaderboard to confirm his win.

Ralston ended up with a 72, good for second place, and Williams was safe despite bogeys on 17 and 18.

“I figured it was close, but I had no clue where Spencer was at, honestly,” Williams said. “You’re just anxious to see what’s going on.”

Williams reached the back nine at 2-under, then birdied 11 and 15 to pad his lead. That was enough to ensure an improved score from last year’s second-place 72, which ended up two strokes behind 2013 region champion and current Wofford golfer Pep Brown.

“It was one of my better tournaments,” Williams said. “I played really well out here in a fall tournament a while ago, but this is the best score I’ve ever had in region and ties the best score I’ve ever had in a high school tournament.”

Gainesville controlled the six top spots on the boys leaderboard. Jackson Bishop finished third at 73 and Grant Lasseter was fourth at 75. Lawson King and freshman Drew Lasseter tied for fifth at 76.

The team score is three strokes better than last year’s region-winning 293, but one stroke shy of the tournament record of 289 set by the Red Elephants in 2012.

That one stroke left the team a little disappointed in the final result.

“We’ll have a chance to have something to build on and get better,” Red Elephants coach Bryson Worley said. “We like that they’re not happy. This isn’t the end of the season, obviously, so we’re glad they’re not happy.”

Gainesville has a little more than three weeks to prepare for Bartram Trail Golf Club in Augusta, a relatively unfamiliar course to Worley and his golfers. They’ll play a practice round there Sunday, then make a second trip in the days before the state meet.

With postseason play officially underway, the message remains simple for the top-ranked Gainesville boys: beat the course before the competition.

“Winning is a by-product of what we’re trying to do, which is beating the golf course,” Worley said. “We don’t talk about winning a whole lot. We just talk about playing as well as we can play.”

The Flowery Branch boys’ second-place 340 earned the Falcons a spot in the Class AAAAA sectionals, which will be played May 5 at White Oak Golf Club in Newnan.

Deuce Gibbs shot a 78 for Flowery Branch, recording the lowest score of any non-Gainesville golfer.


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