When Brian Sadler returned to Liberty's golf team this summer, he made sure to set up a match with Lions coach Paul Bangle.
Sadler left Liberty last year and transferred to North Carroll, where he shined as a sophomore and earned Times first-team all-county honors. Meanwhile, the Lions withstood Sadler's loss and went unbeaten against Carroll foes, sharing the regular-season county championship with South Carroll.
But when North Carroll became no more, Sadler returned to his old school. And that meant orchestrating a showdown between he and Bangle, for a little preseason fun.
Sadler says he won with a 2-over 38 on the front nine of River Downs Golf Club in Finksburg, Liberty's home course; Bangle doesn't like to talk about his 48, done in, he says, by a disastrous final hole.
The coach vs. player bout might have been for bragging rights, but Liberty seems set to benefit from Sadler's return.
"It's awesome. It's great. They welcomed me back with open [arms]," Sadler said. "Now we're a team again."
Sadler finished last season with a 40.6 nine-hole scoring average, third lowest in Carroll County. He won the countywide tournament at Westminster National last August (Sadler's 2-over 73 was the best 18-hole score).
In October, Sadler fired a 74 (2-over) at Links at Gettysburg to earn medalist honors at the county tournament, which helped North Carroll finish first.
But with news swirling about North Carroll's closing, Sadler was preparing to rejoin his old teammates.
"We're just getting back together," Sadler said. "We have great chemistry and that goes a long way."
Liberty also brings back all-county players in junior Josh Kelly and senior Andrew Swanson on a team that went 12-9-1 (6-0-1 against county teams). South Carroll, the Lions' rivals, shared the county crown thanks to a runner-up finish at the county tournament and a 5-1-1 regular-season Carroll record. Liberty and SC tied in their matchup last fall.
The Cavs lost reigning Times Player of the Year CJ Smith to graduation, but return first-teamer Ryan Stankewicz (40.7 average, tied for fourth lowest in Carroll) and second-teamer Michael Shockey.
Winters Mill has 2015 all-county picks John Francisco and Emory Mummert on its roster — the Falcons were Carroll's lone state tournament qualifying team last season — while Century returns second-teamer Jake Ihasz.
The county has its share of talent, and Bangle said Liberty is working on not taking anyone lightly. The Lions started strong by winning a tri-meet Wednesday against Catoctin and Middletown (Sadler led the way with a 36).
Liberty's four-player score of 162 was lower than any other Lions score from 2015, Bangle said.
"The addition of Brian, he's a hard worker," said Bangle, who returns five players with varsity experience. "That bleeds over to the other guys. They know they've got to keep it up. He's back in the area where his family has its roots. I'm just glad he can come back."
Players from Century, Liberty, Manchester Valley, South Carroll, Westminster, and Winters Mill are in action Saturday at Westminster National for an 18-hole tournament, an early-season gauge of sorts to see whose workouts have paid off. Sadler said he and some of his Liberty teammates played together as much as they could over the summer, going from River Downs to Links at Challedon, where Sadler said he's a member.
Sadler said their practice rounds focused on getting back to states — the Lions won a state title in 2007 — and trying to start this season off with some success.
Looks like Liberty is off to a good start.
"Our expectations are definitely high," Sadler said. "We have big goals and we're definitely positive about them."
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