By Jeff Odom
With a late lead slipping through his hands, Gaither boys golfer Jimmy Stanger kept his cool and held nothing back.
After settling for a bogey on the 14th hole, the Cowboys’ lone playoff representative Oct. 22 in Temple Terrace birdied two of the final four holes to clinch his first individual regional championship and second states appearance in as many years.
Stanger, a University of Virginia commit, won the individual title by one stroke with his 71.
“I didn’t want it to end here; not at this course,” said Stanger, who won districts the week before at the same site. “I just knew that I had to finish strong and I would get (to states).”
Stanger, who was recently named a Junior All-American by the American Junior Golf Association, was challenged for the title by Davenport Ridge Community’s Sam Horsfield (72) and Groveland South Lake’s Derrick Drozdyk (73), but he managed to stay ahead of his two group mates by keeping a sharp focus.
Stanger’s ball found its way into the bunker on the seventh, giving his opponents a chance to pounce, but he shut the door by chipping onto the green. Gaither’s ace saved par on the next putt.
Stanger flashed a big grin before heading to the next hole.
“He’s one of the most accomplished athletes I’ve ever been around,” said Cowboys coach Dwayne Olinger. “To do what he did is absolutely tremendous. I could coach the rest of my life and never have another player like him ever again. He’s one of a kind.”
Fighting a blustery breeze against him, especially on the back nine, Stanger stayed consistent with his shots.
“I didn’t really feel the pressure,” Stanger said. “I just knew I had to stay hungry. I’ve been friends with Sam awhile, and for him to have a day like today is pretty incredible.”
Stanger said he owed the victory to his parents and 88-year-old grandfather, Raymond, who he called his good luck charm.
“It’s been really special to have my grandpa with me here and to get the win for my parents,” Stanger said. “I can’t say enough about what they do. (Raymond) was with me when I won at the Outback Invitational, then districts and now here. … He’s definitely going to states with me.”
The 2A boys state tournament is Oct. 30 and 31 at Deer Island Golf and Lake Club in Tavares.
Etcheberry keeps winning
Academy at the Lakes senior Mallory Etcheberry won the first individual regional championship in program history Oct. 22 at Black Bear Golf Course in Eustis.
“I was actually really calm,” Etcheberry said. She added, “I’m normally nervous at the start of a round, but that day I was really calm.”
The University of Akron commit carded a 75, nine strokes better than Bishop McLaughlin’s Brooke Dalton. Both advance to states individually. Etcheberry also won districts the week before.
Etcheberry came to the academy last year, but was unable to compete with the Wildcats because she played in one match at her previous school in Mount Dora.
“I’m used to playing by myself,” said Etcheberry, who has been playing competitive golf since age 9. “It was different because I wanted to do well for my school too, so it was for more than just me.”
Kevin Crowley, who leads the boys and girls programs at the academy, said Etcheberry’s work ethic has been exemplary despite being the only female Wildcat golfer.
“She pretty much hits balls seven days a week, Crowley said. He added, “She’s always the first one at practice and the last one to leave. She’s a great role model for the boy golfers, and of course her talent speaks for itself. … She wanted to play high school golf here her senior year, and she’s doing a bang up job.”
Wesley Chapel junior Hana Lee shot an 88 to miss qualifying by four strokes.
Etcheberry and Dalton will compete at the Class 1A state tournament at Mission Inn Resort and Club in Howey-in-the-Hills Oct. 30 and 31.