YORKTOWN — Taking a few minutes to collect himself Friday evening, Will Dant flipped the switch almost immediately.
He had no other choice.
With Mt. Vernon just missing the state cut, shooting a 309 for fourth at the Muncie Central Regional at The Players Club, the junior held their last hope in his hands.
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He wasn’t going to let it go.
“I had to win. I had to get to state, so we didn’t totally lose our goal,” Dant said. “We wanted to make it as a team.”
Dant tied for fifth overall with a 75 and a chance to secure the final individual qualifying spot for next week’s state meet. Once the announcement was made near the clubhouse, he grabbed his bag but not before exchanging rigorous high-fives with his teammates, who shortly before shared a collective disappointment.
The Marauders entered the final two holes of the regional on pace to potentially tie eventual champion Bishop Chatard (306) and runner-up Hamilton Southeaster (306). Needing pars and birdies to stay in the hunt, their short game unwound as all five golfers missed opportunities, including Dant.
Recording a double bogey on 18, Dant claimed the blame for their shortfall. His teammates also took the blame, as well.
“I could have made those two strokes up anywhere,” Oliver Mast said after shooting a 5-over par 77. “I should have.”
A 307 would have put the Marauders in a tie for third with Yorktown, which they would have beaten based on Max Heitman’s 87 as the fifth golfer.
Xavier Dunham shot an 80, but also voiced frustration in his failure to make crucial putts down the stretch. Senior Jacob Ault, who shot a 77, shook his head in disgust as he walked off the 18th green, needing an extra putt to finish off the hole.
“As soon as I essentially threw it away on 18, I put myself in a mode that nobody could keep me from doing this for the team,” Dant said. “I was ready to go.”
So were his teammates, who followed him every step of the way.
“I told these guys before county that I’ve really enjoyed coaching them because they care so much about each other,” Mt. Vernon head coach Caleb Zelencik said. “They are each others’ biggest fans.”
Dant was deadlocked with Oak Hill’s Cody White and Cathedral’s Austin Vukovits. He only needed three more strokes on the 16th hole to break away for good.
Opening the playoff hole with a solid drive down the fairway, Dant’s clean iron shot on his second swing carried the ball nearly into the cup. Drawing oohs and ahhs from the gallery as it grazed the hole, the onlooking Marauders raised their hands in anticipation of a birdie.
They had to wait on more stroke as Dant buried a perfect putt for 1-under par.
“It’s a heck of a comeback,” Zelencik said. “The hardest thing to do is to finish an 18-hole round with a double bogey when we’re so close to going as a team and turn around and tee it up for individual honors. These guys have been pulling for the team honors and going to state all season.”
Now, they have a new goal, pulling for Dant in his first career state appearance at Prairie View Golf Club in Carmel, beginning Tuesday.
“As heartbroken as they were that we didn’t make it to state as a team, they were the first people to reach the green and watch that final putt for birdie,” Zelencik said. “We’ll have to load up the team bus one more time. They will all want to be there.”
With two juniors in Mast and Dant and a pair of sophomores in Dunham and Heitman returning next season, the first-time sectional champion Marauders believe they might be able realize their team aspiration of reaching state sooner rather than later.
“Our goal was 310 because in previous years that would have been more than well enough to make it out, and we shot a 309. That is great for Mt. Vernon, and Will making it is amazing,” Mast said. “Us coming close as a team gives us even more motivation for next year.”
Notes: New Palestine’s Blake Barnette shot an 83 in his first career regional appearance. Greenfield-Central’s Clayton Long, a three-time regional qualifier, finished with an 88. His Cougars teammate Noah Mohler came in with a 109.
Team Scores: Bishop Chatard 306, Hamilton Southeastern 306, Yorktown 307, Mt. Vernon 309, New Castle 313, Noblesville 313, Marion 323, Bellmont 324, Oak Hill 325, Cathedral 326, Muncie Central 326, Hagerstown 329, Fishers 332, Shelbyville 332, Richmond 337, Delta 345, Franklin 361, Heritage Christian 367
Medalist: Keegan Bronnenberg, Muncie Central (68)
New Palestine: Blake Barnette (83)
Greenfield-Central: Clayton Long (88), Noah Mohler (109)
Mt. Vernon: Oliver Mast 77, • Will Dant 75, Xavier Dunham 80, Jacob Ault 77, Max Heitman 87.
• Won three-way tiebreaker for fifth non-qualifying team individual state berth.
Advancement from Regionals to State Finals: Top three teams plus top five low individuals, excluding those individuals who advance with a team. Ties for fifth place must be played off in order to advance.