Cape Central boys golf team seizes unlikely conference title

Tuesday, May 1, 2012
Central's Travis Simmons tees off on the 11th hole Monday during the SEMO Conference tournament at Dalhousie Golf Club. (Laura Simon)

The gray and black skies that hovered over Dalhousie Golf Club for much of the SEMO Conference golf tournament Monday resulted in rain, thunder, lightning and a mid-round delay of about an hour.

The ominous skies eventually gave way to blue, and out of it came the Central Tigers.

The Tigers prevailed with the combination of an under-par round by medalist Corey Connell, a mind-boggling par out of a trash can by sophomore Travis Simmons, a career-best round from junior Parker Browne and timely help from freshman Luke Kinder.

Central's version of a perfect storm led to a 318 total and an 11-shot victory over runner-up Sikeston in the 11-team tournament.

"It's crazy," said Connell, who finished six shots clear of a three-way tie for second with a 1-under-par 71. "All of our guys came out strong. Our three and four played better than they have. It's really what did it. They finished strong for us. It's awesome."

Central's Corey Connell watches his ball slip past the hole on the 14th green Monday during the SEMO Conference tournament at Dalhousie Golf Club. (Laura Simon)

The win came against many of the same teams the Tigers faced in the Jackson Invitational just two weeks earlier. Central finished sixth in that tournament at Kimbeland Country Club, 26 shots behind winner Poplar Bluff despite Simmons providing a medalist 71. The Tigers also finished behind Notre Dame, Jackson and Sikeston.

"Usually it's Notre Dame or Sikeston that comes out [at us]," Poplar Bluff coach Billy Pyland said. "I'm proud of Cape. That was awesome."

Central finished 13 strokes ahead of third-place Notre Dame, which returned its top five players from last year's conference championship team that unseated perennial power Poplar Bluff.

While storms were on the radar of iPhones around Dalhousie, the Tigers were not.

"It was supposed to be kind of a rebuilding year, but we'll take it," Simmons. "It's very stunning. We haven't really contended all year, and all of a sudden ... we win. It's shocking."

Notre Dame's Jake Seabaugh hits from the 14th fairway Monday at Dalhousie Golf Club. He carded a 79 for the Bulldogs.

"I wouldn't have guessed it. I'm not going to lie," Connell said. "We all played hard. We had the potential, and we all came together and played four good rounds."

The Tigers accomplished the feat with only four golfers after sophomore Diana Kantchev left the course due to illness after about four holes.

"We all four knew our scores were going to count and had to play hard, and it ended up paying off," Connell said.

Connell, who won the Class 4 District 1 title with an even-par round at Aberdeen Golf Course in Eureka, Mo., last week, was paired in a foursome with Carr Vernon, who will attend Akron University on a golf scholarship next year.

The two seniors had separated themselves from the field at 1-over-par when they arrived at the tee box of the par-4 16th. Vernon drilled his drive down the middle for a short wedge shot into the green, while Connell's shorter drive found a fairway bunker.

Jackson's Eli Pike putts on the 13th green Monday at Dalhousie Golf Club.

The advantage flip-flopped in moments.

Vernon saw his approach bounce into the rough behind the green, chipped and missed a 4-foot par putt. Connell hit a 9-iron about 150 yards out of the bunker onto the green and made par for a one-shot lead.

The lead grew to three shots on the next hole, the par-4 17th, where Connell rolled in a 10-foot birdie after Vernon missed a par putt from about 15 feet.

Connell threw a fist into the air as the putt fell, then did the same when he finished his round with an 8-foot birdie on No. 18.

"I don't know the last time anyone was the conference champion and also the district champion," Central coach Dick Wadlington said. "That's pretty hard to get those two in the same year because there are so many good players in Southeast Missouri."

Connell bogeyed his first two holes.

"I walked ahead of everybody and told myself, 'You've got to fight. You've got to fight,'" Connell said.

He birdied No. 6 but made the turn at 2-over-par 38 with a bogey at No. 9.

Connell birdied No. 10 and just had hit in the water fronting the par-3 11th when the horn sounded for players to leave the course due to approaching storms.

"It was kind of tough, but it let me calm down from [the shot]," Connell said about the delay.

He pitched close to the pin when play resumed and escaped with a bogey.

"After that, I knew I could make a move," Connell said. "There were a lot of birdie holes coming up, and I executed on them."

Connell first bogeyed No. 12 but came home with birdies on Nos. 13, 15, 17 and 18.

Vernon made a par-saving 40-foot putt on No. 14 to keep pace and had the birdie on No. 15, but he played the final three holes in 4-over par.

"Carr, in my opinion, probably has been the top player for the last four years in high school golf in Southeast Missouri," Wadlington said. "He's got all the tournament wins to show it. And for Corey to play heads up with him the last couple of matches and beat him has been quite an accomplishment for him."

Simmons, a sophomore, finished tied for second with a 77, Browne had an 83 and Kinder carded an 87 despite a quadruple bogey on the final hole.

"We've had two scores that have really anchored the team, but we've had difficulty with our third and fourth scores," Wadlington said. "And today we didn't. And these are probably career lows for a couple of kids in an 18-hole tournament."

Browne shot a 98 at the Jackson Invitational, and Dalhousie has a higher degree of difficulty with more water, sand and trickier greens.

Browne finished tied for ninth and was all-conference with Connell and Simmons.

"Eighty-three is really good for him," Connell said. "He ended up shooting 39 on the back after the rain, and when it started to get windier for us. He came out strong and made a move for us, and I think that's really what got us the win."

Browne was playing in his final competition of the season after failing to qualify for the sectional meet at last week's district.

"It's neat to finish this way," Browne said.

The 16th hole, where Connell took the lead, summed up the day for the Tigers.

It yielded one of the stranger pars that Wadlington has seen in a tenure at Central that dates back to the 1970s.

Simmons landed his drive in a trash can that sits among the trees in an area in the right rough that slopes away from the fairway.

His father saw the drive land in the basket.

"I didn't know it went in the trash can," Simmons said. "If it misses the trash can, it's probably in the high grass and we don't find it. I guess someone was looking out for me. It landed in the trash can, so you get a free drop from that. And I had a little gap through the trees. So I hit a 5-iron up there and got up and down for my par."

Senior Gunnar Knudtson led Notre Dame with a 78.

Freshman Eli Pike shot an 80 to pace Jackson (344), which finished fifth.

Team -- Central 318, Sikeston 329, Notre Dame 331, Poplar Bluff 333, Jackson 344, Dexter 401, New Madrid 420, Kennett 432, Doniphan 433, Caruthersville 442, Malden 452

Individual -- 1. Corey Connell, Central, 71; 2 (tie). Travis Simmons, Central, 77, 2 (tie). Carr Vernon, Poplar Bluff, 77; 2 (tie). Kirk Hoggatt, Sikeston, 77; 5. Gunnar Knudtson, Notre Dame, 78; 6 (tie). Jake Seabaugh, Notre Dame, 79; 6 (tie). Nick Woolard, Poplar Bluff, 79; 8. Eli Pike, Jackson, 80; 9 (tie). Collin Davis, Poplar Bluff, 83; 9 (tie). Parker Browne, Central, 83; 11 (tie). Garrett Griffin, Jackson, 84; 11 (tie). Ben Murray, Sikeston, 84; 11 (tie). Cody Stevens, Dexter, 84; 11 (tie). Hunter Pyland, Poplar Bluff, 84; 11 (tie). Evan Deere, Sikeston, 84

Central -- Corey Connell 71, Travis Simmons 77, Parker Browne 83, Luke Kinder 87

Notre Dame -- Gunnar Knudtson 78, Jake Seabaugh 79, Brady Dixon 87, Tyler Arpin 87

Jackson -- Eli Pike 80, Garrett Griffin 84, Connor Thrower 89, Zach Crader 91

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