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PLAS golf seeks second straight title

As the school year draws to a close, many people at Pike Liberal Arts are focused on the Patriots’ baseball team and its pursuit of a state championship.

However, there is another team that has a chance to bring home a state title, and could do so in just under a week.

The PLAS golf team is seeking its second straight state championship, and will play for the title Monday and Tuesday in Selma at the Selma Country Club.

While the Patriots are the defending champions, they will face a tough test from many teams, namely Lee-Scott.

In fact, LSA has bested PLAS in several tournaments this year, as the Patriots have won one of their six tournaments and finished second to Lee-Scott in all the others.

“It’s pretty remarkable when you consider that out of over 1,500 strokes, we’re separated by only 20 or so,” said PLAS head coach Denny Sanford.

Senior Grant Gilbert is the defending individual state champion, and he said the Patriots must focus on themselves rather than their opponents, including Lee-Scott.

“We just have to worry about our own game, and then just go out and get the job done,” Gilbert said. “It’s been close, and now we just have to take care of business.”

Both teams participated in a tournament in Selma earlier this year with Lee-Scott taking home the title, but senior Jackson Byars said playing in Selma should actually be an advantage for PLAS.

“That last tournament there, we had some guys, including myself, who underperformed,” Byars said. “But, it’s like another home course in that we’ve played it every year for the past five or six years. We’ve probably played there 50-plus times in our lives.”

Another possible advantage for the Patriots could be their wealth of experience.

Gilbert, Byars, Ben McKeller and Audie Stell have been on the team for several years, with Gilbert winning an individual state title a year ago, and Byars set to play collegiate golf at Montevallo.

McKeller will be the No. 1 seed for the Patriots, Gilbert will be the No. 2, Stell the No. 3, Byars the No. 4 and Stewart Pinckard the No. 5 seed.

While Pinckard is at the bottom in terms of seeding, Sanford said his presence has helped the Patriots tremendously.

“I think this year’s team, from top to bottom, is stronger than last year’s team even though we may not have played like it, and a lot of that has to do with Stewart and how far he has come along,” Sanford said. “For a while, we were just hanging our hopes on our top four and what they could do, and just hoping we’d get hope from somebody else, but that isn’t the case anymore. Stewart has the ability to, and has on a few occasions this year, shot in the top four for us.”

In addition to the team competition, Martin Meeks and Will Sanford will play in the tournament as individual qualifiers, meaning their scores will be counted toward the individual standing, but not the team’s overall score.

While Lee-Scott may appear to be the favorite heading into Selma, Sanford said the Patriots have started to turn it on at the right time.

“I like our chances because all of our guys are really starting to play well,” Sanford said.