By Justin Sokeland
MONTGOMERY – With an empathic fist pump, with tears in the eyes, with laughter and glee, Bedford North Lawrence chiseled its mark on history. Ending a 38-year drought, on a rain-starved golf course that had the forgiveness of concrete, required irons in the tool bag and iron in the mental approach.
The Stars were tough enough. For the first time since 1985, for only the second time in program history, they won a regional championship, digging a crown from the bare ground at Country Oaks on Saturday and earning a second consecutive invitation to the IHSAA state finals.
The 14th-ranked Stars topped the 15-team field with a solid score of 332, conquering No.19 Terre Haute South (345) and Jasper (345) to claim the coveted trophy. The top three teams, plus the top three individuals who were not members of advancing teams, qualified for the state championship at Prairie View on Sept. 29-30.
Earning a ticket to the final stage of the state tournament series (going back-to-back for the first time since 2018) was the ultimate goal, but winning became the sweeter secondary focus when BNL approached the first tee. The experience and team depth played a huge factor as the Stars handled the hardscrabble conditions with caution and care. Scores were elevated, but BNL carded four scores in the 80s to grind out a historic victory.
“Experience played a big factor,” BNL coach Kori Johnston said. “They love the course, they have good vibes on it. Knowing we could go for it, we have all the ability, they went out and got it done.”
Seniors, as expected on a big stage, led the way. Chloe McFaddin posted an 80 (finishing tied for fifth in the field) while Kenley Craig made the tour in 82. They had strong support from Kinleigh Root (84) and Ellie Horton (86). Just in case, freshman Sammie Nusbaum fired a 94. The advantage of previous rounds under the intense pressure of the postseason could not be overstated.
“Knowing we just made history for BNL means a lot of us,” McFaddin said. “I felt like everyone was shaking in their boots, and we just treated it like another day.”
The dry, dusty conditions required a defensive, calculated approach. Miss a landing area, or an elevated green, by a fraction, and the ball seemed to never stop rolling. There was no “rough” in reality, although the rough ground made precise contact more important. Yet the greens were a manageable speed. The bottom line of that equation was mental toughness while others around were scuffling.
“Mental attitude was key,” Craig said. “I had to keep myself up after a bad shot, that we had a chance. We had played this course so much, we knew how to play each hole. We had an advantage.“
“It’s very dry out there, balls were bouncing a lot further and taking some weird bounces we weren’t ready for,” Johnston said. “So we’ll take it.”
Castle’s Ashley Kirkland, last year’s state runner-up, was the medalist with a 1-over 73, and what made her round remarkable was her start (two bad tee shots on the first tee and a quadruple-bogey on the opening hole). So she gave the field a four-shot headstart and still won the top individual prize by five strokes.
Evansville North’s Kiley Standring (79) and Evansville Memorial’s Abby Shires (80, winning a playoff) claimed the other individual tickets to Prairie View.
BNL will make its 10th state finals appearance. “It feels unreal,” Craig said.
“It means everything,” said Johnston, showing the emotion of the moment with welling tears and a quivering voice. “I couldn’t be more proud of them. They’ve worked so hard all season. To come out here and do this, make our mark on the record book, I’m thrilled for them.”
Saturday at Country Oaks
BNL 332, Terre Haute South 345, Jasper 345, Castle 364, Barr-Reeve 365, Evansville Memorial 371, Gibson Southern 376, Washington 383, Brownstown 389, Evansville Mater Dei 396, Springs Valley 421, Terre Haute North 429, Parke Heritage 433, Southridge 435
BNL scores – Chloe McFaddin 80, Kinleigh Root 84, Kenley Craig 82, Ellie Horton 86, Sammie Nusbaum 94