State tournament berths on the line for Grizz golfers

As Clint Murphy walked off the final green after shooting his highest score in a competitive round this spring, all he could wish for was a mulligan. When the sun rises on Monday, Murphy and his Ashland High boys golf teammates will get exactly that.

Ashland's road back to the Class 5A state tournament became a bit more difficult when Klamath Union shot a season-best 331 to win the final Southern Sky Conference match at Harbor Links Golf Club on Thursday, beating the Grizzlies by 26 shots. The Pelicans won the final three SSC matches of the season, erasing a 20-stroke Ashland lead on the final day to secure their own spot in the state field by winning the SSC regular-season championship.

The SSC tournament starts at noon Monday at Running Y Ranch Golf Course in Klamath Falls, giving the Grizzlies a second chance to earn a return trip to state the following week. The two-day, 36-hole event concludes on Tuesday at Eagle Point Golf Club and the Grizzlies must finish ahead of Crater, Eagle Point and Mazama in order to qualify.

"We've played both of those courses really well," said Ashland senior Matt Naylor, who leads the team with an 84.4 stroke average in SSC play. "Running Y is an easy course. There are a lot of birdie holes."

Ashland, which won the first two SSC matches this spring, shot a respectable 357 on Thursday to finish second to the Pelicans for the third straight time. Ashland was second to KU by four shots at Running Y on April 28 and had a first and second in the two matches played at Eagle Point in April.

Ashland averaged 353.6 strokes per round in SSC matches, just behind KU (352.4) and almost nine better than Eagle Point (362.4) and 12 better than Crater (365.8). Mazama (411.8) was last in each event, but shaved almost 100 strokes off its score from the first match to the fifth.

"It's been difficult, because weather conditions as we've gone along haven't gotten better," boys coach Tom McCracken said of the team's season to date. "We've played in downpours. We've played in snowstorms. We've played in 30 miles-per-hour winds. We've played in freezing weather. Are we shooting the scores I would have hoped for us to shoot? No. But weather conditions have had quite a bit to do with that."

The Grizzlies could get a boost from the possible return of junior Michael Wurzell, a member of last year's squad who hasn't played at all this spring after breaking his arm in a snowboarding accident. Wurzell recently had a cast removed and McCracken is evaluating his readiness.

"He's definitely one of our better players," McCracken said. "If he is ready, it's not fair to him not to play."

Other Grizzlies that will tee it up next week are Murphy (85.8 strokes per round in SSC matches), junior Matt Amrhein (91.0) and sophomore Neil Presicci (92.4). If Wurzell can't go, McCracken will choose from among several freshmen to fill the team's fifth slot.

Wurzell isn't the only one who is hurting. Naylor, who has two third and two fourth-places finishes in the five SSC matches this spring, is wearing a brace on his right knee after suffering torn meniscus during football season and hasn't posted the scoring that he did as a junior. His best round this spring is an 81 at Centennial on April 15.

"I give him credit for wanting to hang in there and play," McCracken said. "It's affected his game. He (shot) several rounds in the 70s last year."

Klamath Union's Jackson Kintzinger and Seth Reynolds have gone 1-2 at the last four SSC matches and are the favorites for medalist honors.

"KU has two very, very good players," McCracken said. "Our one and two aren't as strong as their one and two. They drop off after their one and two. We don't drop off as far."

There is no mulligan on the girls' side. Because only Ashland and Crater are fielding complete teams this season, only next week's champion will qualify for state from the SSC. The top three individuals from non-qualifying teams also earn spots.

The Comets bested the Grizzlies in all five head-to-head meetings this season, but Ashland coach Mark Miller believes his charges are capable of pulling an upset and returning to state, where they finished 10th last spring.

"It's actually going to be really close with Crater," Miller said. "We are improving with every match. I'm really proud of them and excited to see how they play in tournament settings. They seem to be peaking at the right time."

Sophomore Willie Michiels has the best round of any Grizzly this spring (99). Sophomore Sadie Shelton and junior Drew Van Vleck have also shown improvement.

Klamath Union's Taylor Glassow is the favorite for individual medalist honors on the girl's side after winning all five SSC matches this spring.

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