CULVER — Playing in similar, swampy conditions on the same course, Triton’s boys golf team did manage to shave some strokes off the previous week’s score at the Hoosier North Athletic Conference Tournament Saturday.
But it wasn’t enough to defend its title, and Trojans coach Jack Carpenter isn’t one for consolation prizes.
“We didn’t win so I’m not going to feel good about it comparing it to last week or not. Our goal is to come and win every time so second place is, as I tell the kids, first loser. Ricky Bobby, right?” said Carpenter, who split duties between coaching at the HNACs and supervising the Triton Athletic Department Golf Scramble Saturday.
Triton carded a 334 team score, six strokes better than the team’s top four scores a week prior at the CMA Invite and in similarly wet — albeit much muggier — conditions at Mystic Hills. Winamac, which was also among the field at the CMA tourney, shot a 325 to dethrone the defending HNAC-champion Trojans paced by low medalist Calvin Larkin’s 1-over-par 72. Larkin topped the leaderboard playing in the second flight, while Harley Pugh turned in a 79 to finish as the overall runner-up in a strong one-two for the Warriors. Karson Kasten carded an 85 and Will Larkin an 89 to complete Winamac’s championship score.
Triton’s top score also came from its second grouping, as Chase Butler fired an 81, while Isaac Wall turned in an 82 in the third flight out for the Trojans. Beau Hepler and Keegan Westafer carded 85, and 86, respectively, all good enough to make the top eight overall and clinch themselves individual all-conference honors, but not good enough to catch Winamac.
“We knew coming in that they were very solid at 1 and 2, and in order for us to beat them, we had to have our first four guys somewhere around 80. So when your number one guy shoots 85, that puts you in a hole immediately because we’re losing 13 strokes on just one man,” explained Carpenter, comparing Calvin Larkin’s round to Butler’s.
“Chase is 81, they shot 79 so we’re within two there, so that’s comparable, but we just didn’t make up enough ground out of the three and four spots. Not having Brock Watkins today was a hurter because he, over the last week of practice, has been our best player.”
It was Watkins who went low for the Trojans the week before at Mystic with an 82, but he was sidelined at Saturday’s HNACs with a pulled muscle in his back. Branden Wareham bumped up into the top five to replace him, and his 99 wound up the toss-out score for Triton. Based on his performances over the previous week, Carpenter thinks Watkins would likely have broken 80 Saturday. If that were true, Westafer’s 86 would have been the throw-away, but the team would’ve needed at least a 77 from Watkins to force a fifth-man tiebreak with Winamac, where the Trojans would have prevailed via Hepler’s 85 versus Wilson Smith’s 112.
“He pulled a muscle in his back so he can’t swing the club right now. He thought it was better than him trying to swing it to bring the next guy up, and that didn’t work,” said Carpenter.
“Not having him made a difference. Now whether it would’ve been a nine-shot difference or not, we don’t know, but it would’ve been nice to have our healthy five, so to speak.”
It was a stretch on 10 and 11 that derailed Triton’s round at the CMA Invite, and number 11 gave the Trojans fits once more at the HNAC tilt. Triton’s golfers went a combined 9 over on the 374-yard par 4 during CMA tourney play, and they didn’t fare much better a week later, as the Trojans’ top four went eight over on the hole Saturday.
“Hole 11 today, the four scores that we counted, we went eight over. So, no, we didn’t learn a darn thing there or if we did, it didn’t show. Hole 16, which is a par 5, not one kid makes par. The par 5s out here are not that long; you should be able to make par. I watched my number three kid be 75 yards out and make double,” Carpenter recounted.
“Those are the type of things, when you’re playing behind the eight ball anyway — you’re not the best team here — you can’t afford to waste those kinds of strokes when you’re in a good position.”
Triton looks to rebound with a three-way versus Tippecanoe Valley and Bremen Thursday, then will play one more competitive round at a rescheduled Triton Invitational next Saturday, moved up from the originally-scheduled date of March 7. The IHSAA state tournament opens the following Friday, as the Trojans take the field at the Warsaw Sectional at Rozella Ford.