Golfers set sights on states

Eight local golfers will travel to Blairsville and compete at Tom’s Run in the individual PIAA Western Regional this morning at 9 a.m.

Half of them have been there before, but none of have advanced past regionals.

The field is in stark contrast to recent years in which District 6 produced several possible contenders for the state championship, but there is reason to believe some of the local players will be taking the next step in their high school golf careers today.

Claysburg-Kimmel’s Tyler Brown, who finished fifth in the District 6 Class AA field, and Bedford’s Kevin McDaniel, who qualified out of the District 5 Class AA tournament, are both in the Western Regional for the second year in a row.

“I think the magic number to move on is going to be 78,” Bedford coach Matt Barkman said. “[McDaniel] was five shots off of advancing last year, and he had two holes that killed him. If he has nothing worse than a bogey, he’ll be just fine.”

District 6 Class AA champion Jeremy Eckenrode and runner-up Dom Stevens, both of Central Cambria, will be joining Brown and McDaniel in the Class AA boys field. Both will be competing in regionals as individuals for the first time.

“Basically, I’ll have to shoot the lowest score I can,” Eckenrode said. “I’ve played the course twice and shot a 75 on Sunday. I think you have to play smart, but it’s a course where you can definitely make some birdies.

“It would mean a lot to have two teammates make it to states. Dom and I are good friends, so it would be awesome to move on with him.”

For that to happen, Eckenrode and Stevens must finish in the top 20 of the 42-man Class AA boys field. The pair missed out on a chance to qualify for states as a team when District 6 champion Central Cambria lost to District 5 champion Conemaugh Township in sub-regional play at Everett on Friday.

Eckenrode will begin on the fifth hole today, Brown on the ninth and both Stevens and McDaniel will tee off on the seventh hole. Stevens will be in the first group off No. 7 and McDaniel will be in the second.

Only one golfer from the Mirror’s coverage area will compete in the boys Class AAA field, Hollidaysburg’s Hunter Shields.

Shields, a senior, finished runner-up to State College’s Ben Gelenberg after losing in a playoff for the District 6 title but still qualified for the Western Regional for the first time.

“[Shields] went out this weekend and played at Tom’s Run,” Hollidaysburg coach Bryan James said. “He was pretty optimistic on his results from the weekend, and in his words the course ‘wasn’t too bad,’ but my only concern is if he can maintain his cool under the big stage he’ll be on.”

Shields did that in the District 6 championship, overcoming a two-stroke penalty accessed in the middle of his round to finish second and grab one of only two spots in the regional out of District 6.

“In my opinion, I think that’s helped him grow, and him not winning districts goes a long way in making him stay hungry,” James said. “He’s still hungry and wants to play in the state tournament. If he got to states, that would be bigger than winning a district title.”

To do that, Shields will have to finish in the top 12 among the 22-man Class AAA boys field. He will begin play on the second hole today.

While no girls from the Mirror coverage area made the Class AAA girls field, three will compete in the Class AA competition, including one who will be playing in regionals for the fourth time.

Everett’s Logan Brallier, a three-time District 5 Class AA champion, shot an 86 to win her most recent title recently and will be making her fourth attempt to qualify for states. Brallier shot a 91 at Tom’s Run last year and missed the cut by two strokes, but the senior is averaging an 84 this season and has been the No. 1 golfer for the Warriors co-ed team all season.

“[Brallier] went out and shot a practice round of 88 in pouring rain, and if we get good weather, she can shoot at least an 85,” Everett coach Gene Decker said. “It would be the icing on the cake to qualify for states with it being her senior year and all the hard work she’s put in.”

Last year’s District 5 champion and this year’s runner-up Kourtney Mortimer of Bedford will also be in the field along with District 6 Class AA runner-up Madison Krug of Penn Cambria.

Brallier, Mortimer and Krug must finish in the top 10 of the field of 21 to move on to the Heritage Hills Golf Resort in York on Oct. 21 and 22 for the state championship. Each one will start on No. 13, with Mortimer and Krug playing together and playing in the first group off the tee and Brallier in the second group.