Four years ago, after missing out on qualifying for the state tournament as a freshman, River Hill’s Kevin Hickey made a promise to himself.
By the time he graduated, he was determined to leave his mark on not only the Hawks’ program but also on the state’s biggest stage.
On Wednesday at the University of Maryland Golf course, he delivered on that promise.
“I said to myself as a freshman that I was going to work as hard as it took to give myself a shot to get to the top. And, it took until the last tournament of my senior year, but I finally was able to make that a reality,” Hickey said. “Today was really a dream come true for me in every sense.”
Firing a final round 73 — the top score of the day by any player in either classification — Hickey posted a two-day total of 148 to force his way into a playoff for the 1A/2A boys individual crown against Fallston’s William Creery.
Then, on the third hole of the sudden death format, he made a clinching par to secure the first postseason title of his high school career.
“It really hasn’t hit me yet, but it was a huge accomplishment,” Hickey said. “Having all my friends and family there was huge. It was great for them to be able to be there and watch … and I was glad I could share that moment with them.”
Hickey’s championship run was part of a clean sweep of the titles in the 1A/2A classification by Howard County teams and individuals.
Faith McIlvain of Marriotts Ridge repeated as the girls champion with a two-day total of 153 (72-81), which was 13 shots better than second-place finisher Elizabeth Tucci of Oakdale.
And Marriotts Ridge, for a seventh straight year, ran away with the 1A/2A team championship by posting a two-day combined total of 628 to outdistance second-place River Hill (655) by 37. It’s the first time since 2012 that Howard County has had the top two team finishers in the classification.
Hickey breaks through
While Hickey entered the final round trailing South Carroll’s Ryan Stankewicz by three shots and Creery by one, it took only seven holes for the Hawks’ senior to play his way into a tie for the lead.
A two-putt birdie on the par 5 16th hole pushed him to 2-under on the day and back to 2-over for the tournament — level with Creery. On a day where the wind swirled and temperatures never really rose, Hickey still managed to elevate his game.
“I knew I had to be a little more aggressive to make up those three shots, but I also knew with how hard the weather was going to be — how cold and windy it was going to get — I just had to stay patient,” Hickey said.
The patient approach certainly paid dividends in the middle of the round as he and Creery ended up going toe-to-toe after Stankewicz faded with a nine-over-par front nine.
The lead ended up changing hands several times down the stretch, culminating with Hickey going ahead by one with a birdie on their 17th hole and then Creery answering right back with a birdie on the 18th to force the playoff.
“It was a fun round of golf and I enjoyed it the entire time,” Creery said. “I didn’t really know exactly where we were in relation to the lead at the end there, but I knew coming down the last that I definitely needed a birdie. So to make that putt, the one that I guess forced the playoff, that was huge.”
The playoff started on the ninth hole — which also coincidentally was also the last hole of regulation for the two — and both made par. They then halved the second extra hole — the par 4 10th — with bogeys.
But on the par 3 11th, just minutes after missing a five-foot putt that would have won the tournament, Hickey stepped up and delivered one of the biggest shots of the day. His tee shot found the left side of the green and set up an easy two-putt, while Creery missed the green short and ultimately led to a double bogey.
“Ten was tough to miss that kind of short one, I thought I had that. But I knew that it wasn’t over and we were still right where we started. It was kind of just a whole new playoff,” Hickey said. “I just tried to take care of what I could.”
Hickey gave a small fist pump after sinking his winning par putt of just over three feet and then shortly after was greeted on the green by teammates and friends to celebrate.
Rounding out the top five boys were Stankewicz (five shots back at 153), Oakdale’s Chris Lee (155) and the duo of Glenelg’s Caleb Taylor (156) and Marriotts Ridge’s Akash Marakath (156).
As thrilling as Hickey’s triumph was, the Mustangs’ McIlvain made things look much easier in relation to her 1A/2A competition.
She was able to cruise throughout the final round despite scoring significantly worse than the opening round when she posted a one-over par 72. At no point during the final 18 holes did her lead dip to fewer than eight shots on the way to eventually outpacing the field by 13.
And, while she was disappointed in her second-day score of 81, the significance of winning a second-straight title was not lost on her.
“Not only does it mean a lot to me, but to everyone that supported me along the way — my coaches, my parents, my family, my friends,” McIlvain said.
McIlvain added that on the front nine of the final round, during a stretch where she made bogey or worse on six of her first seven holes, she forced herself to stay in the moment for the good of the team.
“Mentally you just always have to stay positive,” she said. “Today wasn’t my best round, but I still stuck through it and I just pushed myself to keep going hole-by-hole.”
McIlvain is the first repeat girls state champion from Howard County since Atholton’s Bryana Nguyen accomplished the feat in 2012 and 2013.
Marriotts Ridge extends state record
Seven years and counting, Marriotts Ridge coach Mark Dubbs says each championship still feels just as special as the first.
The Mustangs made it look easy once again, building on a 19-stroke lead after the first round to distance themselves even further from second-place River Hill on the way to another piece of championship hardware.
But Dubbs always reverts back to the three Mustangs teams from 2009 to 2011 that held first-round leads at the state tournament before falling short. He’s learned to never take anything for granted.
“You have to earn each and every one of these and I do think every year the target on us gets a little bigger. But these kids continue to answer that challenge and it speaks to how much they love the game and how much time they are willing to put in each offseason to make this a reality,” he said. “It’s a remarkable run.”
McIlvain, one of two players on this year’s team that also helped lead the way last fall, said upholding the tradition of the program is something that she takes great pride in.
“Seven times in a row really is amazing and the streak is something we feel like is up to us to keep going for all the players before us,” she said. “Each year it’s up to the next team to carry on the tradition.”
Marriotts Ridge ended up with all three of its boys scorers finishing in the top 10 of 1A/2A individuals. Marakath posted back-to-back rounds of 78 to finish in a tie for fifth (156), Isaac Kim improved four shots on the final day to finish eighth with a 158 total (81-77) and Justin Allen was right behind him in ninth with a total of 161 (79-82).
The 625 team score was just three off the pace of last year’s state championship squad.
Second-place River Hill also made history, finishing as state runner-up as a team for the first time. Hickey certainly did the heavy lifting up front, but Cam Deiuliis (10th — 163), Jackson Graves (T15th — 169) and Robbie Graham (21st (175) all contributed to the cause as well.
Having both Hickey and Graves improve their scores in the final round went a long way toward the Hawks distancing themselves from third-place Oakdale (688).
Reach Brent Kennedy at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on twitter @BKBSunSports