LINCOLN — Elkhorn Mount Michael saved its best for state.
The Knights hadn’t shot a team score better this 317 this season, but finished with a 306 Tuesday at Pioneers Golf Course during the first day of the Class B state golf tournament. Mount Michael is five shots in front of second-place McCook and 13 up on third-place Columbus Scotus and Seward.
Individually, defending champion Noah Hofman of McCook has the lead entering Wednesday’s final round after his 1-under 70. Scottsbluff’s Jonah Wright is in second, one stroke back.
Mount Michael coach Kent Christensen said the Knights, looking for their first state golf team title since 1987, qualified for state in 2015 for the first time in five years. Three players are back from that team, which finished fourth.
“I think a little bit of experience helps, and the boys are very coachable and listen well,” Christensen said. “I’m old, so I have a lot of experience. So I just try to pass on (to stay) low-key and stay in the moment.”
The Knights not only stayed in the moment, they shined in it. Luke Krajewski (74) and John Hudson (76) shot their career-low tournament rounds, while JT Hudson, who won districts last week with a 73, matched Krajewski with a 74. JT Hudson was 1-over through 14 before finishing bogey-bogey-birdie-bogey.
Christensen said another of his golfers, sophomore Douglas Jamal, also may have shot his career-best round with an 82. During his second nine, Jamal had a three-hole stretch of double bogey-quad bogey-double bogey. But Jamal recovered to play his final four holes in 1-over.
“We’ve really been stressing keeping the ball below the hole here,” Christensen said. “If you get the ball above the hole, you’re playing defense the whole way. The boys have done a good job. They’ve stayed relaxed.”
Hofman, who won last year’s title by three strokes at Grand Island’s Riverside Golf Club, put himself in position to repeat by making three birdies and two bogeys. He said the score could have been better.
“I was striking the ball extremely solid, but I just couldn’t get any birdie putts to drop,” said Hofman, who bounced back at state after shooting an 84 on a cold, rainy day at districts last week. “My lag putting was good, I just didn’t get many to drop today.”
Hofman, who will play for Southeast Community College in Beatrice this fall, said he hit 13 or 14 greens in regulation.
“My game feels pretty solid,” he said, “so I just have to stay patient and hopefully I’ll get more to drop tomorrow.”
Scottsbluff’s Wright also put himself in ideal position with an even-par 71. His round was similar to Hofman’s: He had two birdies and two bogeys to go with 14 pars. He had seven pars on both nines.
While Hofman said he missed opportunities on the greens, Wright shot 1-over on the three par-5s.
“The par-5s are really where you can score on this course, but I didn’t score very well on them,” Wright said. “I guess that’s something I can focus on for tomorrow.”
This is Wright’s fourth year at state. In the previous three years, Scottsbluff won the team title twice and was third the other season. Scottsbluff’s team didn’t qualify this time.
“It’s weird not being in the team mix,” Wright said. “You’ve got to kind of focus on yourself. I’d rather have the team here.”
In all, 30 players shot in the 70s in Tuesday’s favorable scoring conditions. Only eight of those players shot 75 or better.
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