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After finishing seventh as a freshman, Fike High’s Jake Herring returned to the North Carolina High School Athletic Association 3-A East Regional as a sophomore on Tuesday and emerged its champion with a round of 2-under-par 70.
As a freshman qualifier, Herring, now a two-time Big East Conference Player of the Year, posted a 13th-place finish in his state-tournament debut. Can he go from 13th to first in 2019?
“He absolutely can do it,” expressed Fike head coach Glenn Jones. “I have coached golf for some time and the quality has deteriorated (the last decade). But, this year, there are a dozen or more kids that can shoot under par. It will be tough for him to win.”
The 15-year-old Herring embraces the challenge and emphasized: “It’s about staying focused, If I do, I know I can do it.”
Herring survived a rocky interval to post a one-shot victory in Tuesday’s regional at Reedy Creek Golf Course near Four Oaks.
Starting on the back nine, the Big East and Wilson County king birdied Nos. 10, 12, 13 and 14 and stood 4-under-par after six holes.
But he tripled-bogeyed the par-3, No. 16 layout and bogeyed No. 17. That dilemma left Herring deadlocked with South Johnston’s Lee Eston, a member of Herring’s group.
Herring never relinquished the lead to Eston. After parring No. 18 and the first five layouts on the front side, Herring birdied Nos. 6 and 7 to go to 2-under and lead Eston by a shot.
Herring and Eston arrived at the No. 9 tee with Herring still out front by a shot. Eston sank an 8-foot putt for par. Herring needed to hole a par putt of some 3 feet to avoid a playoff with not only Eston but South Brunswick’s Walker Isley. Herring nailed the putt, leaving Eston and Isley one shot of the top pace with 71s.
“I was fine at the end,” Herring reviewed. “I was a little bit disappointed because I was 4-under after six holes. But it is what it is. I would have liked to have done better, but it was good enough.”
Fike, the Big East champion, finished seventh as a team with a 350 total for its low four individuals. Big East runner-up Hunt wound up eighth at 366. Greenville Rose seized the team championship at 301, followed by Clayton (308).
Along with Herring’s score, the Golden Demons counted a 90 from senior Ryan Richardson, a 92 from Warren Matthews and a 98 from Luke Gregory. Aaron Howell shot 99.
Hunt’s scores: Adam Dermer 86, Andrew Williams 93, Garrett Johnson 93, Dante Gaetano 94 and Sanjeev Francis 96.
Southern Nash was represented by Jubie Moss with an 89 and Carson Winstead at 113. Charles B. Aycock got an 103 from Adam Greenwell and a 105 from Skyler Landen.
Herring was the only state qualifier from The Wilson Times readership area.
Now, Herring attempts to repeat the 2017 feat of Fike’s Bryson Boyette of capturing regional and state titles. Ironically, Herring will invade the same postseason courses as did Boyette.
“Deja vu all over!” Jones exclaimed.
The 3-A championship is scheduled for Monday and Tuesday on the Red Fox Course at Foxfire Golf and Country Club. Herring has drawn Monday’s first tee time of 8 a.m.
Both Jones and Herring emphasize composure will be critical for the young standout.
“He’s a great golfer and a great young man,” Jones said of Herring. “It’s incredible to watch him play. But he’s got some growing up to do --- and he knows that.”
Herring indicated the speed and grain of the Foxfire greens are his main concerns, but he’s familiar with the course and is confident he can play it well. He indicates shaking off adversity, displaying more maturity and not allowing a poor shot to shake his composure are his most critical issues.
He attaches significance to representing Fike as the regional champion.
“It’s pretty cool,” Herring responded. “Hopefully, I can say I won them both the same year.”
And of matching Boyette’s 2017 feat, Herring responded: “That’s the plan!”