A quartet of 73s leaves Bulldogs in contention

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SNOW HILL — The quintessential team effort vaulted the Barton men’s golf team into a contending role in Sunday’s first of three rounds in the NCAA Division II Conference Carolinas Men’s Golf Championship in rain showers and blustery winds Sunday over the par-72, 7,200-yard Cutter Creek Golf Club layout.

The Bulldogs of head coach Ashley Leonard counted four rounds of 1-over-par 73 in carding a 292 for their low four individuals and tying for third place in the eight-team field. Barton is seven shots off the leading pace.

An encouraging Barton start was accompanied by stunning developments at the top.

Southern Wesleyan (South Carolina) University, the No. 8 seed, capitalized upon the more placid early-morning conditions and fired a 3-under-par 285 to lead North Greenville (South Carolina) University by three shots.

Spearheading the Warriors’ surprise showing was Eric Shea with a staggering 6-under-par 66, which leads the 40-player field by four shots.

Coming in at 2-under 70 were Ty Campbell of Southern Wesleyan, Zach McLain of Erskine, Nick Stafford of Belmont Abbey and Will Woodard of pre-tournament favorite and defending champion Limestone (South Carolina) College.

North Greenville’s Chase Fisher posted a 1-under 71 for a total of seven players playing the demanding layout under par in round 1. Five players matched par 72.

“For the conditions, I was very pleased,” Leonard assessed Barton’s round. “We said we wanted to stay in it every round and give ourselves a chance to be in the lead group going into Monday and Tuesday. The conditions got really tough the last hour.”

That’s when the Bulldogs had to count four bogeys on the par-3, No. 17 layout and two bogeys on the par-5, No. 18 layout.

“Nos. 17 and 18 kind of got us a little bit,” Leonard admitted. “We were looking at shooting 2-under or even par (288).”

But at 4-over, the Bulldogs tied King (Tennessee) University and finished two shots in front of No. 8-ranked Limestone, which occupies fifth place at 294. Barton will be in Monday’s lead group with Southern Wesleyan and North Greenville.

Accounting for the Bulldogs’ 73s were senior Derek Hamm, senior Travis Broome, junior Scott Pechacek and freshman Bryson Boyette. Junior Justin Plane needed to sink a 15-foot birdie putt on No. 18 to also shoot a 73. He wound up with a 74.

First in with a 73 was Hamm, who won a three-way scramble for Barton’s final tournament spot.

“This means a lot,” said Hamm, who birdied Nos. 3, 8, 11 and 13. “I don’t get to do this again and, hopefully, I can go out on a good note.”

Hamm is attempting to regain the form that produced his only collegiate tournament win at Cutter Creek two years ago. He struggled last fall.

“I worked on my swing and changed it a little bit,” he noted. “I was trying to get something going; I was dealing with a lot of mental demons with golf. Today, I stayed steady for the most part; I hit a lot of good quality shots.”

Bogeys at Nos. 17 and 18 prevented Hamm from finishing under par.

“I didn’t have the finish I wanted,” he admitted, “but I will take 73 and try to build on it for the rest of the tourney. I love this course; I have a lot of good memories out here.”

Boyette birdied Nos. 2, 7 and 11 and stood 2-under through 11 holes. Bogeys at Nos. 16 and 17 left him 1-over.

“I hit it all right,” the freshman from Fike High reviewed. “I made a lot of good putts early on. The back was so much tougher with the wind and rain off and on. Neither did I give myself the best opportunities.”

Broome birdied Nos. 4, 5 and 15, while Pechacek claimed his birdies at Nos. 3 and 15. Plane birdied Nos. 1, 15 and 16.

Although 73 was the Bulldogs’ lowest opening-round score, the players spoke of a solid start for the No. 5 seed.

“It put us in a good position,” Hamm declared.

The players especially liked the consistency, and Boyette added: “Our score is especially good in these conditions. It puts us in contention.”