By BRIAN WOODSON
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
Home course advantage didn’t work for George Washington. Princeton snuck in and stole the show.
Jimmy Hillyer continued his consistent play, shooting a 4-over-par 74 on Tuesday at Berry Hills Country Club to lead Princeton the Class AAA, Region 3 championship with a five-stroke win over Shady Spring.
Will Hickman added an 82 and Jared Porter fired an 83 to lead the Tigers to the Region 3 title with a three-person score of 239 and the Class AAA state tournament slated for Oct. 8-9 at Oglebay Park in Wheeling.
“That is always the goal, that is always in the back of your mind,” said Princeton second-year golf coach Jimmy Jones, of reaching the state tournament. “It really wasn’t anything I have done, I am not taking any credit for this, the kids have to go out and play and they have been really consistent this year.
“Of the teams I have coached before, this is probably the most consistent team with their scoring. You don’t always get that, but the average for the top 3 or 4 players has pretty much stayed the same all year long.
“In high school golf, if you can get three kids in the 70s, you can win some matches.”
Princeton, which improved to 78-15 on the season, had finished fourth on the same course during the MSAC conference meet in August.
The host school, George Washington, won then by 10 strokes, and was expected to do it again.
It didn’t happen.
“With that kind of dominance, everybody had it in their head that this was their home course, everybody pretty much had them penciled in,” Jones said. “That is why you have got to play...
“They had done well all season long there and everybody thought they had one of the spots sewn up, but it didn’t turn out that way. Our kids showed up and played tough.”
Instead, Princeton (239) and Shady Spring (244) earned the two team berths, with George Washington finishing fourth behind Greenbrier East.
Jones said the Tigers started slow on a difficult course known for tricky, fast greens, but so was everyone else, and he let them know about it.
“In the beginning they had it in their minds they were playing really bad, they thought they were going to be out of it,” Jones said. “After a few holes, I looked at some of the scores and I let them that know everybody was struggling a little bit and they really came through.
“It was a hard day to score low. There were some really good golfers that physically can score better than they did.”
Hillyer led the way, earning medalist honors with a 74, finishing two shots ahead of Kyle Bird from George Washington and Oak Hill’s Craig Buchanan, a duo that qualified for the state tourney as individuals.
“He was the medalist, he shot a 74, he has been really consistent all year long,” Jones said. “I don’t think he was surprised. He is confident and he has been consistent. His average was 72 for the whole season.
“He was right there. Our 1 and 2 (Porter) averaged 72 and 74 (this season). I didn’t quite get that from our No. 2, but they were still good enough.”
Jones felt good about Princeton chances after Hillyer and Porter — both of earned All-MSAC honors earlier this season — finished their rounds, but there was a long wait of nearly four hours until all the golfers had completed their rounds.
“Probably halfway through it,” said Jones, upon being asked when he thought the Tigers might have a chance. “I was going around and checking scores and I had to grab one of my kids who was feeling down after a couple of bad holes and I said ‘Look everybody is having some bad holes, you can’t give up on this.’
“When the scores started coming in and our 1 and 2 came in and I compared them to the other teams, we had a good feeling there,” Jones said, “but we still had to wait.”
It was worth the wait.
“It was a good day, the kids are happy and the principal is happy,” Jones said.
Princeton, which went to the state tournament often under previous head coach Pat Haye, including a second place finish in 2007, will participate in the state meet next week, with Hillyer, Porter and Hickman joined by Andrew Wilson. Steven Parker will serve as an alternate.
The Tigers will have a practice round on Monday at Oglebay Park, followed by two days of golf on a course known for tight fairways, fast greens and unpredictable weather.
Add Jones to the list of those who were happy with the Tigers after Tuesday’s championship round.
“Definitely,” he said. “They stepped up today, I am proud of the kids.”