They got there in different ways — one by way of a comfortable 13-stroke victory and the other by battling through a thrilling three-hole playoff — but as the sun set over the trees at Hobbits Glen golf course on Tuesday, Marriotts Ridge's Faith McIlvain and Justin Allen found themselves in very similar positions.
For the first time in each of their high school careers, McIlvain and Allen were crowned as county champions.
McIlvain built on last year's third place finish at the county tournament, shooting a two-over par round of 74 to pull away from the field. Playing her final seven holes in two-under par highlighted her round.
Allen, meanwhile, made a clutch six-foot par putt on his final hole to shoot a round of 76 and force his way into a sudden-death playoff with Glenelg's Caleb Taylor. Then, after the two sophomores matched pars on the first two extra holes, Allen made a birdie on the third playoff hole to secure the title.
It's the third straight year that a Marriotts Ridge player has won the boys championship, with Alex Pak winning in 2017 and Jackson Courtney prevailing in 2016.
Allen Breaks Through
At the end of a day where he said made putts were hard to come by, Allen made more than his fair share with the county tournament on the line Tuesday.
In addition to the par save on his final hole during regulation, he also sank par putts of five feet or more on each of the first two playoff holes to extend the match. Then, after sticking his approach to within 12 feet on the third extra hole, he calmly drilled the downhill putt to clinch the first postseason win of his young high school career.
"I thought the key to victory was kind of me keeping my nerves down and I made a lot of clutch putts," Allen said. "But as I went through the round, I kind of knew this was going to happen. I knew that there was going to be a playoff.
"I just somehow made a putt, hit a good drive on the third hole of the playoff, hit a shot up tight and made a birdie."
For Taylor, who knows Allen incredibly well because both players are members at Cattail Creek County Club, he said he walked off the course with no regrets. An even par back nine helped him play his way into the playoff and then he kept the pressure on with pars on each of the first two tie-breaker holes.
He didn't give the tournament away, instead forcing Allen to hit the shots to win it.
"I knew between the two of us, it was going to take a birdie to win. One of us wasn't going to crack and make a bogey," Taylor said. "So mad respect for Justin, he played a great hole and is a deserving champion."
Allen said that playing with a familiar face helped calm his nerves.
"I think playing with Caleb, it was kind of a relief to be in a playoff with him, because I always play with him [at Cattail Creek]. We were joking and laughing, but once it got to the green we were all in our zones," he said.
While Allen and Taylor stole the show late, there were plenty of other players that had opportunities to earn a spot in the playoff or win the tournament outright.
Marriotts Ridge's Akash Marakath finished one shot back, shooting a 77, and made a bogey on his final hole. River Hill's Kevin Hickey shot a 78 and bogeyed two of his final four holes. Atholton's Branden Nguyen also hovered around the lead most of the day before settling for a 79 and a fifth-place finish.
As a team, Marriotts Ridge ended up having five of its players finish among the top 10 boys.
Through two holes in Tuesday's championship tournament, the frustration on McIlvain's face was evident. Back-to-back bogeys was far from how the Mustangs' junior had envisioned opening her pursuit of this year's title.
But, as she's done all season, she settled in and left the rest of the county in her wake.
McIlvain proceeded to make seven straight pars to set the stage for playing her final 16 holes in even par, earning the first county crown in her three years of high school.
"Towards the end, it was definitely exciting knowing that I was even coming in. But I just had to keep in mind really that I was playing against myself and the course," McIlvain said. "I just had to play my best."
McIlvain's closing stretch included birdies on the par 3 11th and 16th holes. By then, though, the tournament was well in hand.
The real battle was for second place, where Centennial's Morgan Taylor prevailed with a round of 87. After a slow start of her own, she regrouped toward the end of her front nine — including making a lengthy birdie putt on the par 3 eighth hole.
For Taylor, it was an 18-stroke improvement from last fall where she finished 11th at the county tournament with a round of 105.
Rounding out the top five for the girls was River Hill's Adrienne Lesho (94), Glenelg's Alex Stone (95) and Howard's Logan Lurie (99).
McIlvain was quick to turn her focus to the District and State tournaments, where she will now join forces with the Marriotts Ridge boys. But she also relished the title.
"It's really exciting for me and it's definitely a confidence booster going into Districts," she said. "[Winning this] is an honor."
1. Justin Allen, MR, 76*; 2. Caleb Taylor, G, 76; 3. Akash Marakath, MR, 77; 4. Kevin Hickey, RH, 78; 5. Branden Nguyen, A, 79; 6. Manny Guillen, MR, 80; 7. Adam Fairbanks, OM, 81; 8. Daniel Tuma, MR, 84; 9. Eric Schneider, WL, 85; 10. Ty Sams, C, 86; 10. Isaac Kim, MR, 86; 10. Kenneth Chaplain, C, 86; 10. Cam Deiuliis, RH, 86.
14. Jason Wheeler, Ho, 87; 15. Jackson Graves, RH, 87; 16. Robbie Graham, RH, 88; 16. Sung Kim, MR, 88; 16. Josh Lee, MR, 88; 19. Justin Gutierrez, Re, 91; 19. Trace Teodori, Re, 91; 21. Jai Sheth, Ho, 97; 21. Ben Dotson, A, 97; 21. Jarrett Maynor, Ho, 97; 24. Nolan Chong, A, 104.
1. Faith McIlvain, MR, 74; 2. Morgan Taylor, C, 87; 3. Adrienne Lesho, RH, 94; 4. Alex Stone, G, 95; 5. Logan Lurie, Ho, 99; 6. Ally Abruscato, G, 100; 7. Viola Kim, MR, 102; 8. Julianna Dorsch, MR, 104; 9. Joanna Park, C, 109.
* Won in a three-hole sudden death playoff