POTTSBORO — While the Pottsboro boys golf team has spent all season in preparation for defense of its 3A championship, the Lady Cardinals were hitting the links with the strong desire to join them at state.
“They all brag about it and we didn’t want to get left out,” Henley Foster said.
Foster and fellow juniors Laklynn Fulenchek and Marrie Baldwin had been to regionals the previous two seasons but were unable to earn one of the three automatic berths. After adding a fabulous freshman in Alli Reily, both Pottsboro squads ended up at the Class 3A state tournament at Grey Rock Golf Course in Austin. The Cardinals will defend their crown on May 20-21 while the Lady Cardinals compete at state for the first time on Monday and Tuesday.
“I hope we make top three,” said Foster, who plays with the former clubs of her older brother and three-time state qualifer at Pottsboro Hayden Foster. “You have to go in with the right mindset — let’s go and get this done.”
The Lady Cardinals will be battling Callisburg, Mount Pleasant Chapel Hill, Jacksboro, Eastland, Clyde, McGregor, Keene, Cameron Yoe, Lago Vista, Columbus and Yoakum.
None of the top three finishers from last year are back, including champ Ingram Moore, but Callisburg, Cameron Yoe and Lago Vista return trying to work their way up the leaderboard.
The Cardinals, who were the seventh straight Region II team to win the title, will fend off challenges from Troup, New Diana, Eastland, Clyde, Brock, Pollock Central, Cameron Yoe, Orangefield, Columbus, Lago Vista and Altair Rice.
Seniors Austyn Reily, Hayden Kent and Baylin Bayless are joined by junior Garrett Townsend and sophomore Jack Estes on this quest.
“Playing a course for the third time, it definitely gives you an idea how you have to approach it,” Austyn Reily said. “You look at what you did well and what you need to do better. You know the holes to par and the holes to go score on.”
Troup was the runner-up last spring after it was unable to defend its title and New Diana was third. Brock, Pollock Central and Cameron Yoe also competed at state.
“They won it and then we won it. It’s the third act,” Pottsboro head coach Greg Nix said about the Cardinals and Troup. “It’s been the same two teams at regionals each year. It’s been hard at times because you want to fast forward through the season to get where you think you should be.”
Alli Reily won the Region II individual title with a two-day total of 159 at Oak Hurst Golf Course in Bullard to finish one shot ahead of Paul Pewitt’s Ida Hansen and Mount Pleasant Chapel Hill’s Mason Garrett. Reily was tied for first with Hansen and Callisburg’s Lindsey Bullard, who finished fourth, after opening round 77s before Reily shot 82 on Day 2.
“Going into regionals, I knew I could do this. My putting was really good at regionals. My short game was great,” she said. “My short game’s really good right now. Hopefully it stays that way through state.”
There was a bit of sibling rivalry for Reily, who took a step back from the game at eight to put more of an emphasis on basketball. Then when she got back on the course, she wanted to do something Austyn hadn’t in his high school career.
“I really wanted to make it to state this year,” she said about qualifying as a ninth-grader. “I knew what it meant.”
Pottsboro carded a combined 820 for second place and finished four shots ahead of Chapel Hill. Callisburg won the team title with a 784.
Foster finished seventh with a 193, Fulenchek was 15th with a 201 and Baldwin shot a 270 and was 72nd.
“Our scores before were okay but not the best,” Foster said about their season-long improvement. “Then our scores kept getting lower and lower.”
Austyn Reily, who has signed with Houston, defended his Region II crown with a 135, shooting 66-69 over the two rounds, and won by eight strokes over Troup’s Jake Smelser.
Pottsboro shot a combined 634 to take the region by 12 strokes over Troup. New Diana also advanced with a third-place finish at 665, just ahead of Callisburg at 668 and Van Alstyne, which was fifth at 681.
Townsend was fifth with a 156, Estes shot a 167 and was 15th, Kent carded a 176 to tie for 30th and Bayless had a 217 and was tied for 67th.
“We were the only teams, boys and girls, that went lower on the second day,” Nix said.
It is a bittersweet title defense because a week after winning the championship, a member of the team, freshman Nathan Halfmann, drowned in Lake Texoma.
“It has been on their minds every tournament,” Nix said. “They want to win it again for him.”
Added Austyn Reily: “This year is different because we aren’t just playing for ourselves, we’re playing for our brother Nathan.”
Bayless is the newcomer as Kent, Townsend and Reily have been a part of all three state appearances, finishing with a bronze medal in 2017 before winning it all last spring, and Estes returns after his freshman year.
“I really wanted it more than anything else,” Bayless said. “Being a senior and it was my last chance, it made me work to be that much better. I’m still in prove mode — not just to my teammates. The pressure is a good one and we turn it into motivation.”
Pottsboro led wire-to-wire in Austin last spring and shot a combined 621 — 309 on the first day and 312 on the second — to win the crown by nine strokes over Troup. New Diana finished a distant third with a 657 and won a playoff against Merkel for the bronze.
It was the school’s first team state championship since boys basketball in 1972.
Reily paced the Cardinals by winning the individual state title with a 137 that was seven-under par. He opened with a 69 and then shot 68 to capture the top spot on the leader board by seven shots over Brock’s Garrett Leak.
Reily, who finished eighth at state as a sophomore, was the only player under par for the tournament.
Kent and Townsend each shot 157 and tied for 14th, Estes finished with a 170 and was tied for 33rd and Halfmann shot a 198 and finished 59th.
“It’s been an unforgettable experience, having such good teammates and coach. It’d be really cool to go back-to-back, team-wise and individually,” Reily said. “The last year has been pedal to the metal; go out with a bang.”