East boys third at district, earn first state golf berth since 2008

A championship eluded Lakota East High School’s boys golf team Thursday, but the payoff was just as sweet.

The Thunderhawks finished third in the Division I district tournament at Beavercreek Golf Club, earning a state berth for the second time in school history.

“We worked hard for it all year, so we expected this out of ourselves,” said senior Will Schmidt, who paced East with a 1-over-par 37-36—73. “The pressure was there at the end, pretty debilitating pressure, but it’s well earned, well deserved by the guys.

“It was really windy and the start of the day was obviously cold, but we pride ourselves on being tough, tougher than a lot of the other guys out here, and that’s maybe our advantage. We just fought through it.”

Senior Ben Irvin (38-39—77), sophomore Kyle Schmidt (41-37—78) and junior Alex Dunaway (39-42—81) also scored for the Thunderhawks. Junior Drew Mahon added a 43-42—85.

Centerville led the three state-qualifying teams with a 303 total. St. Xavier (305) and East (309) followed.

“I’m so excited, I can’t tell you,” said Thunderhawks coach Jeff Combs, who’s directed the East program since it began in 1997. “These guys have all played in a lot of tournaments in the summer and spring and winter. They’re tournament ready, and that’s the key.”

The state tournament will be held next Friday and Saturday at Ohio State University’s Scarlet Course in Columbus. The Thunderhawks were also state qualifiers in 2008.

“Those guys were all phenomenal players,” Combs said. “We had more than five guys that could go under par, and this group’s about the same way.

“This is not a surprise, but we’ve had so many good teams that missed out by two strokes, three strokes, four strokes. As well as our program has done, it’s so hard to get there you can’t take it for granted.

“We played with all the best teams in the state all year long. We definitely have a team that could win it. It’s going to be fun no matter what. I get to go up there every year and watch players, but for these guys, it’s such a cool experience. It’s like a PGA Tour event for high school kids.”

Will Schmidt described greens that were rock hard, though he said his putter was the key to his success.

“It’s like putting on your driveway out here, man,” Schmidt said. “We grew up as athletes, not golfers, so it’s a competitive mind-set. You just want to get it in the hole quicker than the other guys you’re playing with. That’s really what it comes down to.”

“These greens are so fast and so firm … you never get to play stuff like this until you get to Columbus,” Combs said. “I bet these were faster than what Scarlet will be. It’s a great prep for Scarlet.”

It wasn’t a great day for Hamilton, which placed 14th among 16 teams with a 370 total. Reid Ruhl’s 44-42—86 topped Big Blue.

“As expected, a special round was needed to get out of here, and we didn’t have it today,” HHS coach Justin Beck said. “This course was a true test of ability. The greens were cooking to say the least. They were rolling at PGA speeds, and with the wind early on in the day, if you didn’t hit a good shot, you weren’t going to get rewarded for it.

“We’ve been here two years in a row as a team, and it’s the third time for Reid Ruhl because he made it as an individual as a sophomore. I give a lot of credit to this senior class because it has done a lot for Hamilton golf. They’ve really put in a lot of energy and quite honestly exceeded expectations in a lot of people’s eyes. I couldn’t be happier to coach these guys.”

Talawanda’s Vincent Whitehead (36-40—76) and Charlie Winkler (36-42—78) made solid showings. Dylan Whitson (44-38—82) and Christian Bugher (41-42—83) represented Lebanon.

East was the Greater Miami Conference and Cincinnati East sectional team champion this season. The last GMC school to earn a state boys title was Lakota West in 2000.

“I’m absolutely ecstatic for Coach Combs and his team from Lakota East,” Beck said. “They’re representing the GMC very well, and I wish them nothing but the best up in Columbus. They really have it going right now. It’s just a class-act program.”

Team Standings

Top Three Advance To State

1. Centerville 303; 2. St. Xavier 305; 3. Lakota East 309; 4. Butler 317; 5. Loveland 321; 6. Elder 330; 7. Fairmont 330; 8. Springboro 332; 9. Mason 337; 10. Troy 341; 11. Moeller 343; 12. La Salle 348; 13. Springfield 351; 14. Hamilton 370; 15. Beavercreek 373; 16. Bellefontaine 375

Medalist

A.J. Cherubini, Centerville, 35-35—70

Individual State Qualifiers

Lucas Wells, Springfield, 37-36—73; Jack Wertz, Elder, 34-39—73; Zach Crawford, Butler, 39-36—75

Local Teams

Hamilton: Reid Ruhl 44-42—86; Matt Miller 49-44—93; Trace Thomas 47-48—95; Eric Roberts 50-46—96; Nate Sweetland 49-47—96

Lakota East: Will Schmidt 37-36—73; Ben Irvin 38-39—77; Kyle Schmidt 41-37—78; Alex Dunaway 39-42—81; Drew Mahon 43-42—85

Local Individuals

Vincent Whitehead, Talawanda, 36-40—76; Charlie Winkler, Talawanda, 36-42—78; Dylan Whitson, Lebanon, 44-38—82; Christian Bugher, Lebanon, 41-42—83