Dan PearsonBy J. Daniel Pearson
For Positively Osceola
Photo by J. Daniel Pearson

From the beginning of the season, there was just one main goal.

St. Cloud wanted to send a team to the FHSAA State Golf Championships at Mission Inn in November. That dream ended one round short of reality on Monday as the Bulldogs could muster no better than a ninth place finish at the Class 3A, Region 3 Championship held on Monday at Orange Lake Resort’s Legends Golf Course.

“Based on our averages, I really thought we could post four scores that would average out to a 75. I felt a team score of 300 would get us in,” St. Cloud Head Coach Jim Endicott said. “Unfortunately we put ourselves behind the eight ball with a really difficult start and could never recover.”

The Bulldogs shot counting scores of 77-79-80-86-322 over the Par 72, 6,800 yard course to finish 34 over par as a team. Dr. Phillips won the team championship with a score of five-over 293; while Vero Beach was second at 296. Windermere secured the third and final team spot in the state championship with a score of 306 – six shots higher than Endicott predicted his team would need to advance.

It was a rough start for the Bulldogs.

Starting on #1 hole, a relatively short 361-yard par four rated the fourth easiest on the course, saw all five St. Cloud golfers bogey the hole. Things would not improve from there on the side. St. Cloud’s four counting golfers finished the Par 37 front nine at 27 shots over par (175).

Austin Price and Hunter Greene, who led St. Cloud to a District title last week by tying for second with matching one-over par 73s, both struggled early. Price had a bogey, triple bogey and double bogey on the par 5s on the front and finished the side at seven over 44; while Greene had a matching 44 with a quad and double bogey on two of the par fives.

Still, the Bulldogs showed resilience on the back side, carding a solid 5-over, 175 on the inward nine. Price played the last 11 holes in three under par to lead the Bulldogs in scoring with a 77. Alexander Owen played the back nine in 39 for a score of seven over 79. Chad Knollinger had a back nine 38 for tie for 30th overall with an 80.

“We really did a good job of fighting back and Austin Price was a great example of that,” Endicott said. “He showed a lot of character by playing the final 11 holes in three-under par and capped it with a 30-foot birdie on 18. Unfortunately we were just too far behind to make up the gap.”

Olympia’s Aaron Leach won the event with a two-under 70 and will advance as an individual. The top three individuals from non-qualifying teams earn spots in the state tournament. Joining Leach in next week’s FHSAA Championship Tournament as wild card representatives will be Winter Park’s Jamie Chepenik (74) and South Fork’s Nashawn Tyson (74).

In addition to St. Cloud, Celebration – by virtue of a third place finish behind the Bulldogs and Lake Nona at last week’s districts – also participated as a team in the event. . The Storm finished in 10th place overall and nine shots back of the Bulldogs with a 331. George Aguilera led Storm golfers with a five-over 77 to tie Price for 19th. Jeremiah Bianchi and Ethan Badillo shot matching 91s to tie for 37th overall. Jack Crawford had the Storm’s other counting score with a 91.

By finishing in the top three individuals among non-qualifying teams at the St. Cloud District district event, Tohopekaliga’s Jonathan Bonilla (88) and Erik Roebrick (97) also earned starting slots in the regional — finishing in 30th and 54th place respectively; while Poinciana’s Malachi Greene qualified as an individual from a different regional and placed 30th with a score of eight-over 80.

“Although we came up a little short of our last goal, this team should be remembered as one of St. Cloud’s all-time best boys golf team,” Endicott added. “They were a true team that did everything together, whether it was during practice rounds, on the putting green or driving range. They were a real brotherhood.”