For the first 17 holes at the Timbers at Troy Tuesday, Marriotts Ridge's Nick Mejia had kept his emotions in check.
There was no celebrating after good shots or slamming clubs following bad ones — for a freshman playing in his first county championship tournament, riding an emotional rollercoaster wasn't an option.
However, as Mejia's putt on the final hole of his round dropped into the cup for a birdie to force a playoff with Centennial's Matt McShane for first place, he finally allowed himself a smile and a fist pump.
"The whole day I really focused on not getting too pumped up or too low," Mejia said. "But I finally let myself let loose after making that putt. I just wanted to give myself a chance at a playoff and I knew I needed that putt to give myself that chance."
Given new life, Mejia seized the opportunity. In front of a large crowd gathered around the 10th green to watch the sudden-death playoff, he edged McShane by one shot on the first extra hole for one of the biggest wins of his young career.
"It's pretty exciting to be able to pull it out, especially because there were so many people so close at the end. Matt especially made some crucial putts and hit some really good shots down the stretch," Mejia said. "I felt like I really had to earn this."
McShane, a junior who had made a key birdie of his own on his second to last hole to help earn his way into the playoff, kept things in perspective following the round.
"It's tough to come so close and lose, but it was an awesome experience," he said. "I've been trying for a long time to get up to this level and today I got there and gave myself a chance."
Mejia and McShane had finished regulation tied with a total of 51 points (3-over par), one shot clear of Marriotts Ridge's Bennett Buch and Glenelg's Steven Segrist. Atholton's Chris Robinson was four back of the leaders with 49 points to round out the top five.
In the team competition, with Mejia and Buch leading the way, Marriotts Ridge was able to edge Atholton by five points, 186-181.
Over the final nine holes, Mejia, McShane, Robinson and Buch had all held at least a share of the lead at one point. The key became limiting the mistakes.
McShane was the leader heading into the back nine, capitalizing on birdies on hole Nos. 7 and 8 to sit at even par. But, prior to his crucial late birdie on No. 16, he had to battle through a stretch of four bogies in five holes.
With McShane stumbling, that opened the door for Robinson to grab the lead — a spot he held at 2-over par between holes 11 and 15. He ultimately ran into trouble on No. 16, though, as his drive into a hazard resulted in a double bogey and ultimately cost him a shot at the title.
That meant it was Mejia's turn in the lead position. Walking to the tee on No. 16, he was in first at 3-over par following a string of five straight pars. Then disaster almost struck him as well after he hit his second shot over the green out of bounds.
"I just hit it perfectly and airmailed it ... probably one of the worst times for that to happen," Mejia said. "But I kept thinking 'just go back and hit the next one the best that you can and see what happens.' "
Mejia went back to the same spot and proceeded to hit his fourth shot to within eight feet, where he sunk the putt for a bogey. That put him in position to make the key birdie on 17 to force the playoff.
Buch, who had quietly snuck back in to grab a share of the lead following a birdie on No. 17, ended up seeing his title hopes dashed by a bogey on No. 18 that came as a result of a wayward drive.
"I made a lot of stupid mistakes today, hitting driver on holes I shouldn't have ... 18 was one of them," Buch said. "Just a really sloppy round and it cost me in the end."
Segrist also ended up one shot short of the playoff and his title bid officially ended when he missed a four-foot putt for birdie on the No. 17, his second-to-last hole.
"That was a tough one to miss because I was right where I wanted to be under the hole," said Segrist, who did go on to birdie No. 18 to close on a positive note. "Still being down two shots with one hole to play, there wasn't much I could do."
In extra holes, Mejia ended up tapping in for a bogey to clinch the title after McShane had lipped out seconds earlier to extend the match.
Marriotts Ridge's county championship tournament team title marks the first for the program since 2009 and was a continuation of a perfect 11-0 regular season. In the end, it was the Mustangs' depth that proved crucial in holding off a hard-charging Atholton team.
"Atholton's got such a solid squad, so to beat them you have to feel really good about what we did," Marriotts Ridge coach Mark Dubbs said. "Our depth, which has been our strength all year, definitely carried us. We have the kind of team where if anyone struggles, the others are right there to pick them up."
Both Marriotts Ridge and Atholton put all four of their guys in the top 15 individually. Glenelg ended up third as a team with 153 points.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun