“You doing OK?” Morang asked with nonchalance.
The pair exchanged a few words, and Morang walked away.
Morang, Caprara and the rest of the Winthrop High School golf team were doing just fine.
Led by Morang’s 4-under 68, the Ramblers lived up to their billing as pre-tourney favorite and collected a team total 315 strokes, nine better than surprise runner-up St. Dominic Academy, to earn the school’s second Class C state golf championship.
“There’s a lot more pressure being the top team,” Winthrop coach Lonney Steeves said. “And look who finished in second. I knew that team from Auburn had to be beat before we got one.”
Steeves knew from experience. A year ago, Winthrop was among the favored teams, and appeared to have locked up the crown, only to have St. Dom’s swipe the title by a single stroke.
“I tried not to talk to the kids about it all week, but I’m sure they knew it,” Steeves said. “They were hearing it from the guys out there on the golf course, too.”
Instead of dwelling on last year’s result, the Ramblers looked forward.
“We just wanted to play our best and just stay positive,” Morang said. “That’s been a big focus for us, just staying positive.”
A good start helped Morang keep the proper frame of mind.
“Usually the starts are pretty rough for me, so when I didn’t double the first hole, I knew I’d be alright,” Morang said.
He didn’t double bogey any holes. With an eagle on the fourth and birdies at the fifth and sixth, Morang was in control. Two bogeys and three birdies later, Morang was at 5-under with three to play.
“I tried my best not to think about it, but I think it did get to me,” Morang said. “It sure was an eventful finish.”
He hit a bad shot on the 16th hole and saved a bogey. A two-putt birdie on the 17th returned him briefly to 5-under before he put his ball in a hazard on 18, chipped out to the fairway and made a bogey to finish.
“I was thinking about going for the green (from the hazard), actually,” Morang said sheepishly. “I thought I heard some groans from behind the green and I thought maybe I should play it safe instead.”
“That’s the best round of golf from anyone since I’ve been coaching for the past six years,” Steeves said.
Morang’s score was easily the best in Class C on Saturday, and second in all classes to Reese MacFarlane of Cape Elizabeth’s 67. But just as important for the Ramblers was a comeback performance in consideration for best of the day.
Anthony Owens started his round on the eighth hole. He made a nine, and followed that with a bogey on the ninth.
“It was very hard at that point,” Owens said. “I just wanted to forget about it on the next hole and move forward, but I was thinking about it for the next 10 holes. A quad, no, not even a quad. A five-over on a hole. It was awful. I was worrying about it for a while until I got back to where I was at bogey golf. Then I was fine after that.”
Owens carded a 1-over 37 on the back nine holes and sat 7-over through 11 holes played.
“From nine to ten, (Steeves) really calmed me down and talked to me,” Owens said.
“Going six-over on the first two holes and coming back and being only three over on the last 16, that’s great stuff,” Steeves said.
Owens’ 81 was the third-best score for Winthrop on the day. Adam Hachey posted a 77, leaving the fate of the team finish in the hands of Zach Robertson and Caprera.
“The top three guys, everybody knows,” Steeves said, “but Zach and Benny, all season long, they’ve been consistent.”
Robertson’s 89 was the Ramblers’ fourth counting score.
“I’m proud of them, just so proud of them,” Steeves said.
Perennial contender Houlton placed third in Class C, two strokes back of the Saints at 326. Mattanawcook Academy (337) and Madison (349) rounded out the top five.
Saying farewell in style
Many minutes after shooting the round of his life, St. Dom’s Mike Bryant was still all smiles, reflecting the overall mood of a Saints team that came from seemingly out of nowhere to nab second place in Class C.
“We weren’t even in the top four qualifying scores coming in,” Cullen said. “My guys said coming in, if we could shoot 12 strokes better than we did in qualifying, which would have been a 325, we had a shot to win.”
The Saints shot 324.
“It’s amazing, the resilience of these kids,” Cullen said. “We keep losing two, three, four seniors every year, and these young kids, they step up.”
Bryant, who struggled a year ago at the state tourney even though the team won, led the way Saturday with a career-best 76.
“Coach said coming in, today isn’t about outscoring anybody, it’s about shooting the best score you can,” Bryant said. “It took the pressure off going into the round.”
Justin Keaney added an 81, Nate Richard carded an 83, and Mitch Lorenz an 84 to complete the Saints’ scoring.
“I tell people, Mitch is the best two-month-a-year golfer in the state,” Cullen said with a laugh. “He picks up his clubs the first day of practice, and he puts them away after states are over.”
Lorenz plays on the school’s hockey team, and will likely play baseball in college.
This year was also special for the Saints for another reason. Cullen, who has coached the team for eight years, recently accepted a new job as the principal of St. Michael School in Augusta. In taking that job, he said this season would be his last as the Saints’ golf coach.
“We kind of had a meeting earlier this week,” Bryant said. “He’s put in so much time for us, we figured he was going to be proud of us no matter what, but we wanted to shoot our best scores for him. He’s been kind of like a second dad to us.”
“Eight years, five championships, and this might be the proudest year of them all,” Cullen said. “Our mindset today was, ‘If we can get into the top four, that would be great.'”
In the past eight seasons, St. Dom’s has won six state titles and has finished runner-up twice.
“This is my biggest surprise ever,” Cullen said.
Class A was a shootout this season, as expected.
The Scarborough Red Storm powered through the field to earn a breakthrough title. Drew Kane led the way with a 3-over 75 on the Tomahawk Course at Natanis. Mitchell Wedge (80), Braden Kane (81) and Nate Roberts (82) finished in the scoring for the Storm.
Greely and Falmouth shot identical 320s to tie for second, but Greely earned the position on a tiebreak. SMAA champion Thornton Academy placed fourth at 322, led by phenom Hashilla Rivai, who shot a 74.
Mt. Ararat was the top Eastern Class A school in seventh position (334), followed by Bangor in eighth (336).
Oxford Hills had a tough day on the course. Last year’s individual state champion Cam Letourneau finished with an 88. Mac Kim was the team’s medalist at 81, and Chris Burns disqualified himself after discovering he’d made a rules error on the course.
Trey Dekutoski shot a 102, and Ken Kozak a 113.
In Class B, Camden Hills repeated as champion with a tourney-low 313. Daulton Wickenden fired a 69 to lead the Windjammers. Julian Starbird fired a 78, and Drew Holt added an 80.
Cape Elizabeth, MCI, Old Town and Erskine Academy rounded out the top 5.
Oak Hill, which qualified in the WMC tourney, finished at 418 in 12th place. Conor Drouin was the Raiders’ top scorer with a 98.