Howard senior Jacqueline Cherry talks about her round of 75 on Monday at Crofton Country Club.
After struggling down the stretch at the county championship tournament before ultimately falling one shot short of first place, Howard's Jacqueline Cherry arrived at Crofton Country Club Monday morning for the District V tournament in search of a little redemption.
And, courtesy of an even-par back nine that allowed her to shoot a round of 75 and hold off Marriotts Ridge's Faith McIlvain (77), the Lions' senior got exactly that. Cherry showed poise under pressure, including an up-and-down par from the sand on her final hole, to capture her second straight district title.
"As hard as it was, I just really tried to put everything that happened at counties behind me. I knew what happened there wasn't a reflection of how I usually play, so I told myself that I've put in the work and I know I'm a strong player that is capable of hitting the shots I need to," said Cherry, who lost a two-shot lead with three holes to play at the county tournament in September.
"The big thing was just staying confident and that's what I think ended up helping me come out with a good result."
Cherry wasn't the only one who used a strong finish to hold off the field and earn a spot in the winner's circle.
South River's Jake Patrick was 5-over par through his first seven holes before regrouping to play his final 11 holes in one-under par. His round of 76 ended up one better than a trio of players — South River's Joe Gaulin, Broadneck's Luke Schwartz and Chesapeake's Jack Snyder — to help him win the first postseason title of his career.
The Seahawks senior said that starting on the fourth hole and playing nine groups behind the top foursome, when combined with his slow start, allowed him to play with absolutely no pressure.
"In all honesty, all the way through 18, I had absolutely no idea I was even in contention. It just didn't even cross my mind," said Patrick. "I was focused really on just trying to post a number to help the team, especially after the way things started for me. But then I walked off that last green and someone told me I was right there at the top and I obviously got really excited."
Including the individual winners, there were a total of 23 male or female golfers who qualified for the state championship at the University of Maryland. That tournament is scheduled to begin on Monday, Oct. 23.
In the team competition, South River captured the 3A/4A team championship with a four-player combined total of 313. In addition to Patrick and Gaulin, the Seahawks also got strong rounds from Paul Kerner (79) and Eddie Sarrach (81).
Marriotts Ridge was once again the 1A/2A District team champion, keeping alive the Mustangs' hopes of winning a record sixth straight team state championship. Behind McIlvain, David Stephens (83), Alex Pak (84) and Akash Marakath (84) were the team's other scorers on the way to a combined total of 328.
"Today, for us, was all about getting used to playing under pressure because this is a very young group in terms of postseason experience. Last year, only Alex played at the state tournament," Marriotts Ridge coach Mark Dubbs said. "So getting out there, seeing how everyone responds, that was important. And I thought Faith really stepped up, which was great to see from a sophomore."
Also advancing as a team was Howard, which put up a total of 330 to finish second in 3A/4A to qualify for states for a second straight season. The Lions were led by Cherry, but also got strong scoring rounds from Brett Pool (81), Shashank Gupta (86) and Alex Abrams (88).
"We are building a nice tradition of accomplishments and all the credit goes to the quality players we have. Nothing is a surprise anymore with this group and we're definitely excited to be going back to states as a team," Howard coach Joshua McGoun said.
Centennial was the only other school to qualify for states as a team, with the Eagles' total of 341 in 3A/4A enough to advance under the adjusted qualifying score to account for one female among the team's top four. Kenneth Chaplain was the team's top scorer with an 83, while Isabel Trojillo and Jake Watson each shot 84, and Ty Sams rounded things out with a 90.
For Cherry, the road to a repeat was filled with potential stumbling blocks. Last year at districts, she shot a round of 74 and won by 10 shots. This year, however, there was no runaway victory.
McIlvain, who finished tied for third with an 82 at the Howard County tournament this fall, never trailed Cherry by more than three shots at Crofton. She did not make any birdies, but instead made seven straight pars to close her round and keep the pressure on her playing competitor the entire way.
"I haven't really been in a situation like that before, being so close to the lead, so I tried not to think about it too much," McIlvain said. "I think the difference today compared to counties was that I just focused a lot more on playing my game each hole, instead of what everyone else was doing."
Cherry, though, responded to the moment when she needed to. She had a few hiccups early on, including four bogeys in a stretch of six holes on her front nine. But after that, she made just one more bogey the rest of the day to make sure she never lost her lead.
On the final hole, after hitting her approach shot in the greenside sand trap, Cherry calmly got up-and-down to close things out.
In the boys competition, the race for first was a muddled one throughout. By the middle of the round, there were nearly a dozen players within three shots of the lead — held after 11 holes by Atholton's Branden Nguyen and Broadneck's Luke Schwartz at 1-over par.
Patrick was in the back of that pack at that time, but his steady play proved to be the difference as those around him faltered. His 10 straight pars were fueled by solid drives, approach shots on the green and then lots of two-putts.
As he put it, there was "nothing too special" about his day. However, considering he was an alternate at the Anne Arundel County and district tournaments last fall and shot an 86 at this year's county event, the steady play was exactly what he was looking for.
"I was just really trying to stay relaxed. I think with county's being my first real postseason tournament, I was just a little too excited. But I think I learned from that," Patrick said. "I just tried to keep things as simple as possible today and make as many pars as I could."
Pars proved to be great scores.
A triple bogey on his 12th hole proved to be the fatal blow for Nguyen, who ended up finishing alone in fifth place with a 78. His round was highlighted by back-to-back birdies on his 10th and 11th holes that catapulted him into the lead at the time.
Elsewhere, Patrick played his final four holes in three-over par to slip into the tie for second.
Gaulin had made back-to-back birdies of his own on his 15th and 16th holes to temporarily take the lead at 3-over, but he too stumbled with two bogeys down the stretch and settled for a tie for second.
Snyder, who was also in that group at 77, played a rollercoaster round that saw him make three birdies and eight pars.
Other Howard County golfers that qualified for states individually were River Hill's duo of Kevin Hickey (T8. 80) and Cam Deiuliis (T10. 81).