An impressive short game and some steely nerves proved to be the difference as Montesano junior Hailey Blancas held off Elma freshman Olivia Moore to win the 1A State Girls Golf Championship on Wednesday at Riverside Golf Club in Chehalis.
Blancas and Moore started the day the clear favorites to win the title after posting 18-hole rounds of 82 and 84, respectively, after Tuesday’s first round.
“I knew it was going to be a battle after the district tournament,” said Blancas, who placed second behind Moore at last week’s district championship. “But I worked as hard as I could in between to get my skills as close to perfect as I could get and just worked my butt off until I felt I was ready for state. … I felt pretty good after the first day. I played the course well and I played smart. My short game was much better than it was at districts, in my opinion. Going into the second day, I knew it was going to be close. We’re both great golfers and I just wanted to push and see how far I could get.”
The East County stars played even on the front-9, both posting rounds of 40 as Blancas held on to her slim two-stroke lead.
But Moore rallied to make up the difference and was tied with the Montesano junior after the 15th hole, setting up for a memorable ending to the highly-competitive tournament.
Blancas led by a stroke after a par on No. 16 and held the lead into the final hole, where a short game that had been reliable for her over the majority of the tournament, paid dividends when it counted most.
Blancas hit a long tee shot and looked to make it on the green in two with her wedge, but her second shot fell short and into some light rough, possibly leaving the door open for Moore.
But Blancas didn’t crack under pressure, putting herself in position to win with a well-placed chip shot from just inside of 15 yards out, guiding the ball to within 10 feet of the cup for a makeable par putt.
Moore was on the green with a longer putt and went first, missing a long par-putt attempt and two-putting, meaning Blancas could clinch the title with her next shot or a two-putt.
Blancas lined up her putt – which had a slight uphill incline and short break to the right – and hit it perfectly. The ball smoothly rolled into the cup, clinching the two-stroke victory for Blancas and the state championship.
”I walked up and read both sides of my putt and just told myself I just needed to hit it good. I just needed to have a good strike on that putt and I knew I had a shot to make it,” said Blancas, who added she felt it was a good shot the moment she struck it. “I could tell it was going in.”
Blancas pumped her fist and smiled shortly before her teammates ran onto the green and surrounded her in celebration, with a gallery of approximately 30 people cheering them on.
”I gave a big fist pump and the crowd was roaring,” Blancas said of the championship moment. “I had an incredible cheering section of friends, family and coaches behind me. It was a great moment. … It was a great feeling. I had a great sense of support all season from them and my coaches.”
Montesano head coach Doug Galloway said Blancas had worked with her father, Arnel, on how to play the 18th hole in different scenarios, including the one faced on Wednesday.
“They went over the scenario of you are up one going into 18th hole. How are you going to play this?” Galloway said. “They had gone over that a couple times trying to prepare for it mentally.”
The Bulldogs coach, now in his seventh season at the helm of the program, also discussed the strategy and shot placement before Blancas teed off on 18.
“We talked about that second shot that the green was up front and if she was going to miss, we wanted her to miss a little bit short and bounce on,” he said. “(The second shot) was a little bit shorter than what we had thought, but it was in the right place for it. … It wasn’t too far away and she hit a great chip and a great putt.”
“Walking up to the tee, I knew that if I played smart, I’d be able to play the hole well,” Blancas said. “It suits my driver, it suits my game very well.”
Blancas said winning the state title for Montesano “feels really good” and said Galloway helped to her to play her best in the biggest tournament of the season.
“I really appreciate the way Coach Galloway coached me all season,” she said. “He knows how to bring the best golfer out of me. Having my team have my back all season felt great as well.”
Blancas and Moore each finished the second round with identical scores of 83 for a final score of 165-167, respectively.
The only other Harbor golfer to make the cut after Round 1 was Elma’s Sophia Hamilton, who shaved four strokes off her first-day score for a 98 in Round 2, placing 14th overall with a two-day total of 200.
Moore and Hamilton combined to score 32 points to place third in the state team standings, the highest finish for an Eagles team since the state title in 2012.
Only a freshman, Moore’s second-place finish and high-level play drew praise from Galloway and Elma head coach Alexis Keating, herself a member of the Eagles’ 2012 state-championship team.
“(Blancas) just did a fantastic job. I’m super proud of her and super proud of Olivia as well,” Galloway said. “For a freshman to come out and take second at state and lead her team to third-place in state, it was just a fantastic day for Grays Harbor kids and girls golf.”
“Sophia came out and played better today than she did yesterday. I’m super proud of her grinding it out and working toward that team third-place finish with her and Olivia,” Keating said. “Olivia played well and had some great shots. I’m incredibly proud of them for how hard they worked.”
Keating said the tournament provided valuable experience for Moore and the Eagles that should benefit them greatly next season.
“Olivia is an incredible golfer and a fierce competitor. She was going out there to play her best. It didn’t necessarily end how she wanted it to, but she was excited for Hailey,” she said. “I feel like when you are playing for your school, it feels a little different. … There is always lessons to be learned. Putting yourself in those positions is how you get there.”
Keating, who said it was much tougher to coach a state tournament than to play in one, did her best to absorb the success of her team in her first year of coaching.
“To get to coach your first year and have your girls play so well and finish so strong, it was just awesome,” she said.
Team standings: 1, Forest Ridge 38 points. 2, Overlake 33. 3, Elma 32. 4, Bear Creek 25. 5, Omak 18.
1, Hailey Blancas, Montesano (82-83–165). 2, Olivia Moore, Elma (84-83–167). 3, Evelyn Cho, Forest Ridge (90-84-174). 4, Lulu Gaul Vargas, Forest Ridge (89-88–177). 5, Rosalind Nordberg, Bear Creek School (93-89–182). 6, Halle Richter, Omak (93-91–184). 7-t, Sherry Fei, Overlake (98-89–187). 7-t, Sophia Samji, Overlake (93-94–187). 9-t, Gracie Harlow, King’s Way Christian (99-95–194). 9-t, Sabrina Joner, La Center (99-95–194). 11, Sophie Janho, Cascade Christian (98-100–198). 11-t, Emma Peterson, Bear Creek School (94-104–198). 11-t, Kali Rowe, Medical Lake (100-98–198). 14, Sophia Hamilton, Elma (102-98–200). 15, Suri Barnett, Overlake (101-105–206). 16, Lily Knight, Freeman (104-107–211). 17, Quincey Abrams, La Salle (102-114–216). 18, Kinsey Christoph, Omak (103-114–217). 19, Maggie Hedrick, Colville (108-110–218). 20, Amy Gray, Cedar Park Christian (Bothell) (108-115–223). 21, Mykla Kiehn, Newport (107-121–228).
Aberdeen’s Rajcich places 13th at 2A State tourney
Aberdeen’s Britt Rajcich shot a second-round score of 82 to placed 13th overall at the 2A State Girls Golf Tournament on Wednesday at the MeadowWood Golf Course in Liberty Lake.
Rajcich shaved four strokes off her Day 1 total to shoot a 168 over the 36-hole tournament.
Fellow Bobcat Saylor Heikkila also made the cut after the first round and shot a total of 190 (92-98) to place 37th overall out of 42 golfers on the final day of competition.
Aberdeen scored 32 points to place seventh overall in the team standings.
Full results for all WIAA State Golf Championships can be found on wiaa.com.