Making a bid to capture a third straight state title this fall, Marriotts Ridge hit the ground running on Tuesday in the opening round of play for 1A/2A schools at this year's state championship golf tournament at the University of Maryland.
The Mustangs' Jackson Courtney fired the low round of the day (74), his teammate Bennett Buch was right behind him (76), and Marriotts Ridge posted a team total of 313 to open up a 29-shot lead on second-place South Carroll (342).
"This year there is definitely a lot more built up pressure on us and we are kind of expected to play well because we brought back basically everyone from last year. But it's one of those things where it's easy to say, but really hard to live up to," said Courtney, who played his final six holes in one-under par. "So for us to battle through this first round and put it all together, it means a lot."
Marriotts Ridge coach Mark Dubbs says experience played a role in the fast start.
"Everybody just kind of knew that if each of them did their jobs we would be fine. When you've been in this situation before, like they have, there aren't those same first-round nerves," Dubbs said. "They all just played their games."
While Marriotts Ridge had all four of its players — Courtney, Buch, Nick Mejia (81) and John Szymanski (82) — fire rounds of 11-over or better, scoring overall was much higher on Tuesday than in the opening round for 3A/4A schools a day earlier.
Only five 1A/2A players broke 80, compared to the 27 players that accomplished the feat in 3A/4A. The individual cut Tuesday was 85 for the boys and 87 for the girls. Middletown's Jake Darr shot a 78 for the third best round of the day.
Genesis Diaz from Elkton was the low female among the 1A/2A schools with a round of 82.
When the final round tees off on Wednesday the individuals will be mixed together, meaning that even though Courtney posted the top boys score Tuesday, he finds himself actually tied for 8th place overall. Walt Whitman's Graham Hutchinson is the leader heading into the final day after an opening-round 69 (2-under-par).
For Courtney, the round at states was a breakthrough following a frustrating past month of postseason tournaments. He finished ninth at the Howard County championship tournament and then was tied for 13th at Districts with an 82.
But a couple great shots early in his round in the opening round at states, suddenly gave him a burst of confidence. Courtney chipped in for par on his first hole, No. 14, and then followed that up with a chip-in for birdie on the par 4 15th hole.
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"Some things there kind of went my way and, although I wasn't hitting it great, I actually got off to a really great start and I thought everything kind of fell into place after that," Courtney said. "I got control of my swing and started feeling like I did earlier this year when I was making a lot of birdies."
After a couple stumbles during the middle of his round, he then closed with a stretch of consistent golf that was punctuated by a birdie on his final hole.
While Courtney finished strong, Buch was on the opposite end of the spectrum. The junior, who won the boys individual state title in 2012, had played his first nine holes at even par before making five bogeys and no birdies on the back nine to finish with a 76.
Marriotts Ridge's other two guys had up-and-down days, with Mejia and Szymanski limiting the damage on a number of holes late in their rounds to keep their scores in the low 80s.
With a sizeable lead in its classification, Marriotts Ridge is setting its sights on more than just repeating. Dubbs says trying to chase down the top 3A/4A teams — Churchill and Walter Johnson — and their opening-round totals of 299 will keep his guys motivated.
"Not to diminish the 1A/2A schools, but those Montgomery County schools that we don't get to play against are really the measuring stick for us," he said. "We've had a program that's been pretty successful the past couple years so I think naturally you want to see how you match up against the best there is out there. The kids saw that 299 number from yesterday and that was immediately what they were shooting for."