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Gainesville boys golf team closes undefeated season with state championship
Lawson leads Red Elephants to program's seventh state title
Gainesville High sophomore Nathan Williams tees off during the Class AAAAA golf state championships on Monday at Pine Lakes Golf Course in Jekyll Island. The Red Elephants shot 289 to claim the state title. - photo by Nick Nichols

JEKYLL ISLAND — In a place that promotes itself as “Georgia’s Jewel,” Gainesville’s boys golfers closed out one gem of a season on Monday.

The Red Elephants shot a four-man score of 289 in the Class AAAAA state championship on Pine Lakes Course at the Jekyll Island Golf Club. That was nine strokes ahead of host Glynn Academy, which finished second at 298.

The win capped off an incredibly dominant season in which Gainesville won all 10 tournaments it entered. The Red Elephants won their seventh state title in boy’s golf, and second in a row, following a championship season in Class AAA a year ago.

“We won all 10 events (this year), which is unheard of,” Gainesville coach Bryson Worley said. “I’m not sure it has ever happened in high school golf, at least in Georgia. It’s pretty special.

“The biggest part of it is I have nine guys, not just six. It’s really tough to get in the top six (on our team) and that helps under pressure. Coach (Kevin) Brown and I work them very hard, and I think that shows up under pressure for sure.”

That depth was evident in the scorecards turned in by the Red Elephants, with all six players shooting 76, or better.

To illustrate how deep Gainesville goes, the team could have matched its bottom four scores against Glynn Academy’s top four numbers and still ended up tied for the state title.

Sophomore Lawson King shot a 2-under 70 to lead the Elephants, and finished tied for low medallist.

“We’re excited. It’s almost like a legacy,” said King, who finished third in a sudden death playoff to decide the day’s individual champion, behind winner Emmanuel Kountakis (Lakeside-Evans) and runner-up Kyle Williams (Starr’s Mill).

“We’re hoping that the kids behind us will do the same thing that we’re doing and come back being just as good.”

King took up golf seriously about four years ago as a tribute to his brother Evan King, a Gainesville golfer who died in a car accident in 2007.

“When I started golf, it was because he was playing golf the last time I saw him and I just thought it was kind of interesting,” King said. ”Me and Jackson Bishop, who’s also on the team, we just tried it and we fell in love with it.”

King added that he wore the same shirt on Monday that he wore as a freshman during the 2012 state championships, calling it a ritual. With two state titles under his belt, it seems a safe bet King will be wearing the shirt as a junior if he and the Elephants are in position to win a third.

Rounding out the top four for Gainesville were Bishop (72), Spencer Ralston (73), and Nathan Williams (74). Pep Brown carded a 75, and Grant Lasseter shot 76.

The result brought Gainesville full circle, after the Elephants opened their season on the same Jekyll Island course at the Johnny Paulk Invitational, which they won by a single stroke over Greenbrier with a 306.

On Monday, the team improved on that showing by 17 strokes, tying a school record in the process.

“It’s a big deal for us to come down here and win again,” Worley said. “We love coming down here. A lot of people in Gainesville have homes on St. Simons. We had a lot of support here today. We probably had more than anyone else and we’re six hours away, which is impressive.”

Worley noted that the 289 is tied with the 1979 state championship and last year’s region championship as the best result in Gainesville history. One more interesting storyline: The 1979 champions reached that total with Mitch Ralston on the roster. His son Spencer helped the team to the same low number on Monday.

Flowery Branch’s boys shot a 326. Eric Little led the way with a 78.

On the girls side, Gainesville finished tied with Creekview for fourth in the state, shooting a three-person aggregate 250 on the Indian Mounds course at the Jekyll Island Golf Club. Lakeside-Evans won the girl’s title with a score of 225. Eunice Yi of Lakeside was low medalist (70), while Meg Callahan led Gainesville with an 81.

Gainesville girls coach Clay McDonald noted that while his girls were the defending state champions in Class AAA, they also faced different competition at the Class AAAAA level this year. He credited the team for solid preparation heading into the state tournament.

“The fact of the matter is there are good players and teams out there and they want to win as bad as anybody else,” McDonald said. “Everybody improved and got better, so I’m proud of the girls and the team for that. But of course we left some shots on the golf course that I would have liked to see us capitalize on a little bit better.”

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