CARROLL — In the end, it was Creston/O-M’s balance that lifted the Panthers to a district championship level here Friday.
In a familiar battle with Hawkeye 10 rival Atlantic for top honors in the Class 3A District Tournament at Carroll Golf and Country Club, both teams ended the 18-hole day with 304 strokes.
Creston/O-M was awarded the State Qualifier banner and medals on the strength of its score of 79 by the fifth, non-counting shooters. Not just one, but three Panthers shot 79, while Atlantic’s tiebreaker score was an 85 by Ben Nelson. Creston/O-M’s scores of 79 were turned in by Trey Thomsen, Sam Hartsock and Kainen Somers.
Both teams advance to the 3A state tourney Friday and Saturday at Ames Golf and Country Club. Tee-off is noon Friday and 8 a.m. Saturday.
Leading Creston/O-M was medalist Carson Whittington, who won a one-hole playoff with Atlantic’s Travis Olsen, after both shot 2-under par 69. The Panthers’ second-best score was a 77 turned in by junior Hunter Sickels, despite battling a severe case of respiratory infection. Christian Groumoutis rounded out the squad with an 83.
Still, the Trojans were able to come into the clubhouse with a matching score of 304, as the Hawkeye 10 easily gobbled up the two state-qualifying spots.
Humboldt took third over Winterset on the tiebreaker as both shot 317, and Spirit Lake finished at 330.
“Very consistent. I thought all five teams were quality teams and it would be a battle down to the end,” said Creston/O-M coach Jan Lesan. “Again, it was Creston and Atlantic. Atlantic is a great team, too.”
Co-coach Kristopher Hayes agreed.
“We talked about it ahead of time and said if we had three scores in the 70s, we’d be in good shape for one of those two state qualifying spots. That 69 really makes a difference, too. We need the same mindset at state.”
Although the courses differ, Creston/O-M and Atlantic posted the second-best state qualifying score from all of the districts Friday. Decorah was the district leader at 299. Others were Clear Lake 309, Williamsburg 316, Centerville 330, Central Clinton 332, Ballard and Grinnell each at 350.
“Carson is right there with anyone in the state now,” Lesan said. “But any of our guys could jump down and score well, too. You have to place your shots. You can’t lose control of your shots and get in trouble. The greens are great greens to putt on, but there will be some tricky spots.”
Four of the six Panthers played on the same course in the 2011 state tourney — Whittington, Sickels, Thomsen and Somers. Hartsock and Groumoutis are both sophomores and have not played at state.
“We have a great chance,” Sickels said. “Four of us have been there. The experience will help, letting the other guys know what’s going on. I think we have a great shot.”
Whittington got some extra practice in playing under pressure when he and Olsen teed off on No. 1 in front of a large crowd of Trojan and Panther supporters in the sudden-death medalist playoff Friday.
Whittington brought out his driver to cut the corner and the trees with a big blast. Olsen played it safer with a 3-wood and was much farther from the green on his second shot on the par-4 hole.
Whittington had to pitch over a sand trap to a sloping green, but it was a short shot and he used perfect touch to land it near the hole before rolling about 14 feet from the cup. Olsen’s second shot left a much farther putt uphill on the green.
His downhill birdie putt seemed to be almost in line, but rolled slightly wide of the edge of the hole.
Whittington then nailed his birdie putt right in the center, drawing a rush of congratulations from friends, teammates and coaches.
“I like the roar,” Whittington said, smiling. “It gets your adrenaline going.”
The Panther junior, who has already placed twice at state individually, said former Panther Ryan Palser, now golfing at Kirkwood Community College, planted the seed of his aggressive play in the extra hole.
“Palser was the one who got it in my head to do it, and coach Hayes encouraged me to go for everything,” Whittington said. “So I just hit driver, right where I wanted to. Then I thought I hit a perfect (chip) shot, but the green was so fast, it sloped away and wouldn’t stop it. I thought the putt broke about a foot and half. I liked it before I even stroked it.”
Whittington finished with a charge, shooting 3-under on the front nine after posting a1-over 35 on the back nine. He started the second nine with par, birdie, birdie, birdie, par and birdie. His only bogey was on his last hole of the round.
“The scary thing is, as well as we shot today, we left some shots out on the course,” Hayes said. “We can shoot even better. I’m confident of that.”
Today the Creston/O-M girls are in regional competition at Newton.
Boys Class 3A District
Carroll Golf & Country Club
Par — 37-34 — 71
Team scoring — 1. Creston/O-M 304 (tiebreaker); 2. Atlantic 304; 3. Humboldt 317 (tiebreaker); 4. Winterset 317; 5. Spirit Lake 330. (Creston/O-M and Atlantic advance to state tournament May 24-25 at Ames Golf & Country Club.)
Individual leaders —1. Carson Whittington, Creston/O-M, 69 (playoff); 2. Travis Olsen, Atlantic, 69; 3. Evan Schuler, Atlantic, 72; 4. Ryan Christy, MOC-Floyd Valley, 73; 5. Clifton, Winterset, 74; 6. Gutz, Storm Lake, 75; 7. (tie) Bomgaars, MOC-Floyd Valley and Martens, Harlan, 76; 9. (tie) Birdsell, Humboldt, Potter, Spirit Lake, N. Benes, Winterset, Hunter Sickels, Creston/O-M, 77.
Creston (304) — Carson Whittington 34-35 — 69; Hunter Sickels 39-38 — 77; Trey Thomsen 44-35 — 79; Sam Hartsock 40-39 — 79; Kainen Somers 41-38 — 79; Christian Groumoutis 43-40 — 83.
Atlantic (304) — Travis Olsen 36-33 — 69; Evan Schuler 32-35 — 72; Sam Markham 40-40 — 80; Nick Barry 42-41 — 83; Ben Nelson 41-44 — 85; Cooper Zablocki 44-42 — 86.