SIDNEY – Monday was certainly a special day for the Scottsbluff and Gering boys golf teams.
The Bearcats, powered by individual champion Koy Potthoff and runner-up finisher Jared Pilkington, claimed the Class B, District 4 Tournament championship in impressive fashion, finishing ahead of McCook, 317-334, for the title.
Gering also had a memorable showing, earning its first trip to state in years with a third-place finish with a 352.
The top three teams and top 10 individuals from each district tournament qualified for the Nebraska Class B state tournament, set for May 27-28 at Riverside Golf Course in Grand Island.
For Scottsbluff, the Bearcats had three players crack the top 10. The leader was Potthoff, a senior who won the individual title with a 74. Pilkington, a junior, took second with a 76, and junior Jonah Wright was fifth with a 77. Also for the Bearcats, senior Sean Mercer Smith fired a 90, and senior Baily Hort carded a 91.
“It’s awesome,” Scottsbluff coach Mike Klein said of his team’s first-place finish. “There’s just a different kind of pressure [at districts]. I mean, you don’t have to win, but you have to finish in the top three. You can’t make a lot of mistakes. You can’t take a lot of chances. It’s just kind of different golf. I’m proud of them. They did a great job.”
Having three players finish in the top five, Klein said, was neat to see.
“Our top three guys played lights out,” he said. “That was a hard golf course, but boy did they play lights out.”
While the Bearcats surely felt a few jitters coming into the event since it was districts, Klein said his players handled the situation well.
“This group is unbelievable,” he said. “They have fun, and they’re always loose. This is just an amazing group of kids. They’re all smart kids, and they just take it as it comes. They just try to do the best they can. If they have a bad round, they laugh that off and come back and try to play better.”
No one excelled more than Potthoff, who enjoyed a solid front nine and back nine en route to finishing on top.
“He’s just steady,” Klein said. “He pretty much keeps everything in front of him and just plays the golf course like it’s supposed to be played. He was really steady today.”
Although the Bearcats were thrilled to earn the district championship, they won’t be celebrating it for too long. They have high hopes for the state tournament next week.
“The big event is next week,” Klein said. “You have to get through this one to get to that one. I think everybody understands that. They were happy – there’s no reason not to be happy. They had a lot of fun on the way home. But they’re focused now on playing well next week.”
Like Scottsbluff, the Gering Bulldogs will also head into state with lots of momentum after holding off nine other teams for the third and final state qualifying team spot from the B-4 district.
“This was our goal at the beginning of the season – to qualify as a team for the state tournament by playing well at districts,” Gering coach Keaton Green said. “It’s been awhile since Gering’s had a team go down there, so we’re very happy. The guys are excited.”
Green praised his players for the way they handled the tough course and the tough field of teams.
“I was watching the scores come in on the turn after the first nine, and we were right where we needed to be,” he said. “We were sitting in third place, three strokes behind McCook and seven strokes in front of Sidney. So I told the guys, ‘We’re right where we need to be. You just need to go out and play like you know how to play.’ For the most part, we did that. As a whole – the entire field of teams – the scores came in a little bit higher than they normally do at a district tournament. The course was playing difficult. But for the most part, we got around and did what we needed to do.”
Because of how the Bulldogs have been playing this season, Green knew his squad would be in the hunt for a state berth.
“I had quite a bit of confidence,” he said. “I know us and Sidney have been going back and forth, and then Cozad played well last week in Ogallala and Lexington played well in the tournament. So, we knew it was going to be tight, and I think all of the coaches that were vying for that third spot knew it was going to be tight. But I was pretty confident that if we played the way we know we can play, we would be there at the end.”
A big reason for Gering’s success, Green said, was the Bulldogs’ mental toughness.
“More than anything I saw today was the intense focus on what they wanted to do,” he said. “We were really focused on each shot. They took their time and made sure that they were doing what they wanted to do.”
Gering’s leader was senior Alex Lupher, who tied for 10th place with an 85.
“He played real well,” Green said. “He’s happy to be going to state and getting that medal. He was really focused today. I was proud of him.”
Mason Marsh, a junior, shot an 86 for Gering, and sophomore Grant Masser had an 88. Kraiger Ebbers, a senior, carded a 93, and junior Logan VanAnne shot a 112.
Green said he’s excited about the Bulldogs’ chances at state.
“It’s golf, so anything can happen,” he said. “I’m looking over how the rest of the Class B field went team-wise, and we’re right in the mix as far as being in that top tier.”
Chadron and Alliance both qualified one individual for state. Chadron junior Jayden Stack earned his state spot by placing fourth with a 77. Alliance junior Anthony Hare earned his state berth by tying for 10th with an 85.
Scottsbluff 317, McCook 334, Gering 352, Sidney 359, Chadron 367, Cozad 371, Gothenburg 373, Lexington 379, Broken Bow 388, Alliance 391, Holdrege 402, Ogallala 420.
Individual State Qualifiers
1, Koy Potthoff, Scottsbluff, 74. 2, Jared Pilkington, Scottsbluff, 76. 3, Noah Hofman, McCook, 77. 4, Jayden Stack, Chadron, 77. 5, Jonah Wright, Scottsbluff, 77. 6, Brian McMahon, Lexington, 80. 7, Patrick Messersmith, Gothenburg, 82. 8, Masen Sis, McCook, 83. 9, Austin Reynolds, Broken Bow, 84. 10T, Anthony Hare, Alliance; and Alex Lupher, Gering, 85.