A leaky finish didn’t spoil a precedent-setting day for Beddingfield High senior Stephen Abrams.
However, problems the last few holes may have well cost the Bruins of head coach Jody O’Neal another program first during Monday’s North Carolina High School Athletic Association 2-A East Regional boys golf tournament at Wedgewood Public Golf Course (par 36-36—72, 6,338 yards).
Despite fuming over a triple bogey on the par-5, No. 17 layout, Abrams emerged the Beddingfield golf program’s first regional individual champion with a round of 36-38—74, 2-over-par. Abrams, the 2-A state third-place finisher in 2014, posted a three-shot victory.
However, he was convinced he was headed for a round as low as 3-under when disaster struck on his second shot on No. 17, and didn’t hesitate to blame himself for the Bruins falling three strokes short of qualifying its team for the state tournament for the first time.
Furthermore, Abrams was on the verge of having company traveling to Foxfire Village Golf Resort next Monday and Tuesday, but senior David Ellis was denied an individual berth by North Johnston junior JoJo Richardson in a playoff that went two holes.
“I didn’t finish good,” Abrams commented in a disappointed tone. “The triple on No. 17 really hurt me and my team.”
Abrams, the Eastern Plains Conference Player of the Year and league tournament champion as well as the Wilson County Championship co-medalist, was certainly expected to contend for individual supremacy if not prevail. He entered with the lowest scoring average and only Abrams and Washington junior Tony Lovenberg possessed stroke averages in the 70s.
Lovenberg carded a 79 to pace Washington, the Eastern Plains king, to regional supremacy with a 343 total for its low four individuals. East Central Conference champion East Duplin placed second at 349, followed by Croatan, another East Central member, at 358. Those three teams are state bound.
Then came Eastern Plains members Beddingfield (361) and North Johnston (365). Elizabeth City Northeastern, the Northeastern Coastal Conference front-runner, wound up sixth at 366, while First Flight and Goldsboro deadlocked for seventh at 400.
Individually, Abrams finished three shots ahead of Jacksonville Northside junior Pitipat Panjatansek, an exchange student from Thailand, who posted a 39-38—77. Tony Lovenberg was third with his 42-37—79
Joining Abrams, Panjatansek and Richardson as individual state qualifiers were Alec Foster of Farmville Central with a 41-40—81; Nicholas Lapham of Currituck with a 41-40—81; and junior Trent Moore of Northeastern with a 43-39—82
Abrams started shakily and leaked at the finish. Bogeys at Nos. 2 and 6 left him 2-over par one third of the way into the round. However, he played the next 10 layouts at a scorching 3-under with birdies at Nos. 7, 9 and 11.
“I wasn’t hitting it close, not making putts and making dumb mistakes,” Abrams reviewed his start. “I guess I got mad and said I was going at everything. Then I hit it close on No. 7.”
Abrams, however, was most excited when he executed a tricky, uphill chip shot and nailed an 8-foot par putt on No. 12.
“I was thinking ‘here we go!’ I was thinking I was going to shoot 69,” Abrams remarked. “But it didn’t happen.
“That was a normal second shot on No. 17 — a little draw around a tree. But I snap-hooked it. Then I hit it in the bunker, skulled it out of the trap ... It was not a good hole; everything was bad.”
Abrams regrouped to par No. 18.
“I wanted to birdie it, but I guess par was all right. I turned it around for a couple of holes and went right back to what I was doing.”
Beddingfield’s Ellis responded: “I’m pretty satisfied” after a round of 40-43—83.
But the playoff changed his mood. Both Ellis and Richardson parred No. 1. Richardson, however, grabbed the final state spot by tapping in for his par on the No. 2 green.
“I’m disappointed,” Ellis angrily said. “And the team should have done a lot better; we should be going to the state.”
Beddingfield hopes soared when the scores of Abrams and David Ellis were posted. But sophomore Matthew Ellis, who had played well of late, struggled with a 103. Senior Samuel Olivares could do no better than 101.
North Johnston players also lamented over what could have been, but Richardson assured he wanted no part of another playoff.
“Nervous,” Richardson promptly admitted. “But I felt like I could do it (win the playoff). My round was not too good, but it was decent once I got going — thank God!”
Washington, in repeating as the team champion, counted Tony Lovenberg’s 79, and 89 from senior Eric Lovenberg, a 90 from senior Josh Padgett and an 87 from senior Robert Mayo.
For runner-up East Duplin, senior Noah Simpson shot 81, freshman Mack Whitehurst 83, sophomore Alex Weston 94, and freshman Max Whaley 91.
Tony Lovenberg considered the Pam Pack fortunate to repeat.
“I’m excited,” he acknowledged, “but we did not play that well. We were just trying to get into the state; I don’t think we were expecting to win it. We just trying to shoot our best, but we played about our season’s average.”
Of his round, which included a birdie at No. 16, Lovenberg responded: “Getting it done it just one day is tough — especially the first couple of holes. I was shaking. I am surprised 74 is the low score; I thought it would have been lower.”
Panjatansek’s 77 included a birdie at No. 16. He explained he plays golf fairly frequently in Thailand and expressed that he was “pretty excited” about the two-day state tournament.
“I drove the ball and putted well,” he reviewed Monday’s round, “but some chip shots screwed me up.”
And Abrams remained haunted by No. 17.
“It’s good,” he said of being Beddingfield’s first regional champion. “But I just wish it had been better — and the team had done better.”