When La Plata junior Daniel Barnas came off the Swan Lake Golf Course on Wednesday and reported his 2-over-par 38, he was surprised to hear that it was the highest score on his team so far.
Surprised and pleased.
For the second straight year, La Plata and Northern went into their regular season finale with undefeated records and the Southern Maryland Athletic Conference title on the line.
This time, La Plata beat Northern, 146-154, to regain the title.
"I was happy with my score, and to have my teammates all shoot so well was great," Barnas said. "We knew we had the potential to play that well as a team."
La Plata Coach David Russell suspects that the schedule makers knew exactly what they were doing by setting up the showdown with Northern.
"Last year, Northern was the favorite, and they brought in a young team and knocked us off," Russell said. "This year it was a role reversal.
"I'm really proud of the way they played."
Senior Vincent Hancock anchored the Warriors (12-0) with an even-par 36 at their home course, but a talented group of underclassmen helped them card a comfortable win over their rivals.
"I was proud that everyone was sub-40," Russell said. "We had guys who shot their best rounds [Wednesday], and it's special when you can do it in a big match."
Sophomore Cody Burch shot a 35 and was followed by Jay Dove (37), Barnas (38), Matt Amthor (38) and Taylor Fuqua (39).
Burch's 1-under-par round tied that of the Patriots' Sam Hoffer for the day's low.
Hoffer continued his superb play, and fellow senior Jeff Kingsbury shot a 38, but the loss meant the end of one of Coach Rob Halstead's goals for his team.
"The goal of our regular season was to be undefeated," he said. "So we're definitely disappointed.
"Not so much in the score, because La Plata played very well."
Halstead thought some of his players risked difficult shots to improve their individual scores rather than playing the safer, team-oriented shots they were coached to make.
"If a guy attempts a shot that he can make three out of five times to get his score lower," said Halstead, "that number tends to blow up into a double or a triple [bogey] that can really hurt us in a match."
Halstead is keenly aware that his team will get another shot at La Plata. The district tournament will be back at Swan Point on Oct. 11, and the SMAC tournament will be at Twin Shields on Oct. 19.
"With us being 12-0, other teams know what we're capable of doing," Barnas said. "We just need to keep working hard and doing it."
Hoffer Better Than Ever
The defending SMAC champion has spent the regular season showing that he could, in fact, improve on an outstanding junior year.
Hoffer, a senior, averaged 35 strokes per round in the regular season and didn't post any scores higher than 2 over par.
"Sam knows the course management aspect of the game as well as anyone," Halstead said. "He's done everything I've asked of him and more."
Huntingtown Moving Up
In its second year, Huntingtown finished the regular season 8-4, a three-win improvement over the Hurricanes' 5-7 mark in their inaugural season.
That put them in a tie for fourth place in the SMAC behind La Plata, Northern and Leonardtown.
"It was a reasonable turnaround," said Hurricanes Coach Jim Hall. "But from my standpoint, we honestly could have done a lot more."
Huntingtown was led by junior Casey Norris, who Hall believes has a shot at qualifying for the state tournament. To do so, he must shoot 81 or lower at the district tournament and be one of the top 11 players.
But as a team, Hall said, Huntingtown has yet to play in a match as well as it has played in practice.
"Potential is a nice thing if you live up to it," Hall said. "If we could do that, we'd be in pretty good shape."
A Talented Freshman
Dove, a freshman, is the youngest player in La Plata's starting lineup and one of the reasons the youthful Warriors were able to win the SMAC regular season title.
"He's a smaller guy who can really hit the ball," Russell said.
His consistency around the greens has kept Dove's scores consistently below 40 and will make him a player to watch in the next few years.
"His short game is phenomenal," Russell said. "And, really, that's the key to the game."