BY CHAD DARE firstname.lastname@example.org
---- — DANVILLE — Finally.
That’s how Bismarck-Henning senior Andy Bott felt walking off the No. 18 green at Harrison Park on Monday afternoon.
In a one-hole playoff with Hunter York of Decatur Lutheran, Bott claimed the IHSA Class 1A Bismarck-Henning Sectional titles with a par, while York got a bogey.
“That’s the first playoff that I’ve won,’’ said Bott, who shot an even-par 71 to get into the playoff with York. “I was 0-2 in playoffs coming into today. I lost one last year in Paris.’’
The other playoff loss for Bott was in the 2011 IHSA Class 1A State Tournament when he bogeyed the first playoff hole against Tri-Valley’s Austin Sproles, who claimed the state title with a par.
“That came into my mind when I hit my birdie putt on the playoff hole,’’ Bott said. “It was so easy for that putt to get away from me. I was thinking, don’t ram it by and get too aggressive with it.’’
York, whose approach shot flew over the No. 18 green, had just missed a tricky downhill par putt, seeing his ball hit the back of the hole and pop out.
Bott, who admittedly hit his approach shot a little farther than he wanted, knew he had two putts to win his first-ever sectional title.
“I knew he was in deep trouble over the back of that green,’’ Bott said. “I was trying to keep it short, but I hit it a little thin. I knew anything over that green was death.’’
While Bott, with his round of 71, was guaranteed a spot in this weekend’s state tournament along with junior teammate David Warren, who shot an 80, their Blue Devil teammates turned up their play on the final nine holes to finish second in the team standings with a 330. El Paso-Gridley claimed its second straight sectional title with a score of 313, while Champaign St. Thomas More also advanced to state with a third-place finish and score of 340.
“It wouldn’t have been nearly as fun if it was just me and David Warren at state this week,’’ Bott said. “Now, we get to go with a whole team for the third straight year. That means with get to go out to dinner together and we get to miss school.’’
And while the players are looking forward to having a little fun this Friday and Saturday in Bloomington, the Bismarck-Henning coach Terry French needed to take a few breaths when Monday’s tournament was over.
“It was not easy,’’ said French, whose team actually finished 13 strokes ahead of fourth-place Decatur Lutheran. “I lost quite a few years off my life this morning. We just didn’t start out real well. My standard statement with this group has been, the stars had to align for us to do it.’’
Those stars were not nearly in alignment during the front nine for the Blue Devils. Bott was the only Bismarck-Henning golfer shot shoot under 43 on Harrison Park’s front nine, but those same five dropped 20 strokes over the final nine holes.
“We had to suck it up on the back nine,’’ French said. “Man after man, they came through and played well.
“The pressure of playing on your home course can work two ways. You can benefit from it, but also everyone expects you play well. That might have worked against us until our guys settled down and got in a groove.’’
Warren, who shot an 80, had a 43 on the front and 37 on the back for a six-stroke improvement, but the biggest change came from Logan Reifsteck, who shot a 91 with a 50 on the front and a 41 on the back.
“He has struggled with his swing the last couple of days,’’ French said. “I just kept telling him to dig in, and slow down. I wanted to see that smile on his face.’’
That simple suggestion for Reifsteck and the rest of the Bismarck-Henning team might have been the key to its turnaround.
“I just used a Happy Gilmore statement,’’ said French, quoting the Adam Sandler movie. “I told them to ‘go to your happy place’.
“It didn’t work right away at the start, but these guys did a great job to respond and get back to state.’’
Both French and Bott, who shot a 61 on Oct. 3 to win the Vermilion Valley Conference title at Harrison Park, thought the course was in excellent shape for the sectional tournament.
“I took a lot of heat for shooting 10-under here in the VVC tournament,’’ Bott said. “Today, the course played really tough. The greens were fast and the pins were tucked.
“Brock (Burton) and the staff here at Harrison Park did a good job of putting the course together.’’
Oakwood freshman Brandon Rowe shot a 10-over 81 on Monday to advance to state as an individual.
Just missing out from qualifying were Chrisman’s Austin Merritt (87), Salt Fork’s Cole Sanford (89), Milford’s Alex Portwood (97), Hoopeston Area’s Tristyn Trosper (99), Westville’s Adam High (104) and Hoopeston Area’s Anthony Shore (105).
The IHSA Class 1A State Tournament will be held on Friday and Saturday at Prairie Vista Golf Course in Bloomington.