Rahul Bajaj sank a seven-footer for par on the 18th hole, and South Knox coach Zach Abel and assistant coach Malcolm Dubbs let out a large yell Friday at the Vincennes Sectional.
Bajaj didn’t know at the time, but the putt was good enough for the Spartans to defend their sectional title by one shot over Washington, 317-318, in the 13-team field at the Country Club of Old Vincennes.
South Knox rode its top three of Tristen Dubbs and Lucas Beard, who fired 77s, and Coleton Hostetler added a 78. Bajaj, a transfer from Rivet, provided a timely 85. Zac Schmidt had 102.
The Spartans advance to the Washington Regional next Thursday at Country Oaks along with Rivet’s Christian Steininger. The freshman had the second-low score among players on non-qualifying teams with a 79.
South Knox’s second straight title was more pressure-packed than a year ago, when it posted a 12-shot win, but Spartans coach Zach Abel said his team was into drama.
“The thing is that Rahul had some issues with putting this year. Coach Dubbs and I knew he had to par the last hole for us to win because Washington had the tiebreaker,” Abel said. “He knocked in that seven-footer and we just lost it.
“Rahul comes over and asks what are we cheering about, and I told him that putt probably won us the sectional,” Abel said. “He said he was glad that he didn’t know that beforehand because he wouldn’t have felt too confident over the putt.”
Abel wasn’t so sure about his team at times this season,
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but showed plenty of sharpness this week when it won the county tournament Tuesday with a 308 at High Pointe.
“Our guys had their doubts in the middle of the year when we weren’t scoring well,” Abel said. “I felt more optimistic after Tuesday. It’s nice to know, even though our scores weren’t where we wanted them to be at points in the season that we could click at the right time.”
South Knox sparkled on the opening nine, shooting a 152. But on the easier back nine, the scores started to elevate. Abel said his top three players were a combined 13-over on the last three holes before Bajaj’s final-hole par stopped the slippage.
“When we got done with the first nine at 152, we felt good because we thought 310 would win it,” Abel said. “But there were some spots on the course where it played hard, and the distances weren’t the same on some holes as they’ve always been here, so our guys had to adjust to that.”
Wood Memorial wasn’t too far behind as the third and last team to qualify for the regional, firing a 323. The Trojans had the sectional medalist, Carter Creedon, who shot 71.
Both Rivet and Lincoln tied for eighth place at 365, but Steininger’s round of 79 allowed him to keep his season going. Pike Central’s Clint Onyett had the low score among non-qualifying teams at 75. Steininger and Washington Catholic’s Brock Craney tied for second at 79 and had to play in a sudden-death playoff for second and third. Steininger won the playoff with a birdie on the par-5 first hole.
“I’m super stoked,” said Rivet first-year coach Chris Steininger, Christian’s father. “We talked about this goal all year, and I’m super proud that he achieved it. He’ll work his tail off this next week, and we’ll see what he can do next week at Country Oaks.”
Austin Finch carded an 88, James Hancock 93 and Wesley Murawski 105 to complete the Patriots scoring. Jack Whitsett had 125.
“It was the best team score all year. We had three seniors and sometimes senior-itis appears, but these kids were there every day I asked them to be there. I couldn’t ask for a better group of five people,” coach Steininger said.
Trevor Stenger of the Alices was nearly involved in the individual playoff, shooting an 80. Jackson Glosser had 89, Luke Lange 95 and Jayden Hunter 101. Lathan Thomas shot 104.
“It was the best 18-hole score this year, but I feel bad for Trevor, missing out by one shot,” Lincoln coach Blake Claycomb said. “I saw some good scores from players who haven’t played so well this year, so it was good for them to come out and play their best. Half of our 10 players are seniors, so next year is going to be another growing year for sure.”
North Knox did nip North Daviess, 420-421, for 12th place. Ian Kixmiller paced the Warriors with a 90, Billy Keene had 101, Chris Kaetzel 107 and Cavan Lemberg 122.
“This was the first time any of them had played in the sectional, so I know nerves played a big part in us not getting off to a great start. But once they calmed down they all did better, and I’m proud of the kids for not giving up,” Warriors coach Chris Loheider said. “I hope our returning golfers spend a lot of time on the course this summer to make themselves better for next season.”
Team scores: South Knox 317, Washington 318, Wood Memorial 323, Pike Central 330, Gibson Southern 332, Washington Catholic 343, Barr-Reeve 358, Lincoln 365, Rivet 365, Tecumseh 382, Princeton 410, North Knox 420, North Daviess 421.
South Knox: Tristen Dubbs 77, Lucas Beard 77, Coleton Hostetler 78, Rahul Bajaj 85, Zac Schmidt 102.
Washington: Gray 74, DePass 80, Melton 81, Meinhart 83, Parsons 90.
Wood Memorial: Creedon 71, Schomeyer 77, Doerner 81, Bottoms 94, Strickland 95.
Pike Central: Onyett 75, Mills 83, Kabrick 84, Holder 88, Reed 97.
Gibson Southern: B.Murphy 80, D.Murphy 83, Martin 83, Stoll 86, May 86.
Washington Catholic: B.Craney 79, L.Craney 86, Drew 87, Wu 91.
Barr-Reeve: Emmons 81, Brothers 88, Yoder 92, Blake 97, Anderson 102.
Lincoln: Trevor Stenger 80, Jackson Glosser 89, Luke Lange 95, Jayden Hunter 101, Lathan Thomas 104.
Rivet: Christian Steininger 79, Austin Finch 88, James Hancock 93, Wesley Murawski 105, Jack Whitsett 125.
Tecumseh: Tuley 89, Lillpop 93, Arnold 96, Orth 104.
Princeton: Wilhite 95, Heldt 103, Fugate 104, Hiatt 108, Banyae 111.
North Knox: Ian Kixmiller 90, Billy Keene 101, Chris Kaetzel 107, Carter Lemberg 122.
North Daviess: Britton 101, Roark 106, Fine 107, Hawkins 107, Wagler 113.