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Team of the Year: Team effort – Eagles rally at state to bring home medals

By Richard Greene | Published Saturday, July 2, 2016
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Decatur Golf Team

Decatur Golf Team. Messenger Photo by Joe Duty

Staring down a tight fairway or hunched over a putt on a lightning-fast slick green, the sport of golf puts pressure on the individual with every decision and swing finding its way onto the scorecard.

Under the most tension-filled conditions on the state’s biggest stage, Decatur relied on the will of a tight-knit pack over the talents of individuals to reach new heights.

The Eagles quintet of Cade Lamirand, Drew Jones, Bryce Elder, Hayden Bennett and Mason Hudson took turns finding magic around the Onion Creek Golf Club to bring home bronze medals with a third-place finish in the 4A tournament at the University Interscholastic League’s golf championships.

“All four years of high school we looked forward to getting a medal and we finally did it,” said Lamirand, one of the team’s three seniors. “Our whole team was able to come together and get a medal – not just only one of us.”

With their ability to rise to the occasion and rally for a team medal, the Eagles are the Wise County 2016 Team of the Year.

Coach Fernando Escobar points out this was truly a team in what many consider an individual sport.

“It’s hard to explain the type of team they are. It’s not just one guy,” Escobar said. “When they needed to get it done, they responded to adversity. That made it even more enjoyable. They are a great group of guys.”

Decatur finished sixth at the state tournament in 2015. With four of the five members of that team returning, the Eagles entered the spring with high expectations.

After a handful of fall tournaments, Decatur went to work in the spring delivering on those expectations.

Led by Jones, who won his fourth straight individual district medal, the Eagles captured the 8-4A title by 65 strokes over rival Bridgeport. The Eagles followed that up with a third-place finish at the 4A Region I tournament with the University of Texas signee, Jones winning his second straight individual region medal.

Heading to Austin for a fourth time, Jones hoped this would be the year, he brought home an individual medal. He’d finished in the top 10 his first three years, including fourth as a junior.

But in the opening round of the state tournament, Jones found trouble. He fired an opening round 82 and fell 16 shots behind the leader.

“We rode Drew as long as we could. We went out and expected Drew to shoot low like he usually does,” Escobar said. “Then reality struck. But we had other guys play lights out and say ‘I got your back.'”

Lamirand and Elder both stepped to the forefront with solid opening rounds. Lamirand fired a 73 to put himself in third place just seven strokes out of the lead.

“I just went in open-mindedly and went for it. I managed to play the best I have ever played,” Lamirand said.

Jones added that Lamirand, a star on the basketball court, delivered the big-time assist the team needed.

“I’m very proud of these boys, especially Cade. I hadn’t seen Cade play that well,” Jones said. “It was perfect timing for him to do it – especially knowing he’d worked hard.”

Elder shot a 76 as Decatur cobbled together a round of 315 to for fourth place – three shots back of Monahans for third.

“The first day was good,” Elder said. “I struggled at the end of the round. It was fun. I didn’t go down there and my best golf. I tried to grind through it and it all turned out good.”

Hudson shot an opening round 84 and Bennett 86.

With the team in contention for a medal, they rallied around each other. That included building Jones up for the second round.

He responded with a renewed determination, shooting a 2-under 33 on the front nine. After a double bogey at 10, he quickly pulled it back together to finish with a 1-under 71.

“I had a different mindset,” Jones explained. “I knew the mistakes that I made the first day and just tried to fix it and hit it where I couldn’t make any dumb numbers.”

Bennett improved by two strokes in the second round to help the team’s score.

“I knew I struggled a little the first day and I had to come back and play the best I could for us to come back and get these medals,” he said. “I just went out there and forgot about the day before and took it one shot at a time and it ended up paying off.”

Hudson fired an 87 and Elder shot 78 in their second rounds.

Playing in the final team group with some of the top players in the state, Lamirand didn’t back down. The senior rolled in a 40-foot putt on the third hole to give his round an early jolt.

He made the turn at 2-over and remained there through 13. He gave up five strokes in the final five holes. But when his final putt on 18 hit the bottom of the cup, he sealed a bronze medal for the Eagles.

His teammates were standing around the final green as he finished the round. A few minutes later they found out they had leadfrogged Monahans and received their hardware.

“If I couldn’t have won it or got a medal myself, there’s nothing better than getting a medal as a team, especially my last year with these guys,” Jones said. “I have a lot of close friends on this team. It was a good way to end the year.”

Hudson added: “Perfect – out with a bang. It’s what we dreamed of. It made the senior year all worthwhile.”

Bennett and Elder said they were honored to play with the seniors and happy to see them go out with a medal.

“These seniors are great role models. Bryce and I have looked up to them a lot,” Bennett said. “They’ve helped us improve. They’re just great influences. We’re going to miss them a lot.”

But they will always have the hardware to remember this year.

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