Hill, Baker qualify for state tourney

September 28, 2004|MIKE MARSEE

SOMERSET - Christina Hill had already qualified for the state tournament; Amber Baker had not.

But Baker was still in the game, and Hill was right beside her as she prepared for the playoff that would determine her fate, encouraging her every step of the way.

Boyle County's Baker and Danville's Hill have become fast friends during the few times they have played golf together, and they'll get a chance to do some more bonding next week now that both of them are going to state.

Baker earned the final individual qualifying berth at Monday's 5th Region Tournament here by surviving a nerve-wracking playoff.

"This is exciting," the Boyle senior said. "I've been on the golf team for six years, and for this to be my last year, just to say I'm actually going to state."


No such drama was necessary for Hill, a sophomore who secured her second trip to the state tournament by shooting a 79, the fourth-best round of the day at Eagle's Nest Country Club.

"I wanted to shoot about a 75, but I'll deal in the 70s," Hill said with a smile.

Hill and Baker were the only two local players to make the state tournament Oct. 5-6 at Bowling Green Country Club. Lindsey Rankin of Lincoln County was the odd player out in the playoff for the last two state berths that included Baker and Whitley County's Kayla Peace.

Baker and Hill played in the same threesome, and both were laughing and chatting all the way around the course.

"When I saw I was playing with her, I was excited," Baker said. "I love playing with Christina. We just click."

Hill birdied two of her last five holes, the par-5 fifth and seventh holes, to close out the best tournament round of her life.

She shot 89 in last year's regional at nearby Somerset Country Club, and she shot 98 off the men's tees in a boys invitational at Eagle's Nest earlier this season.

As Danville's only female golfer, Hill plays with the Danville boys most of the time, and she hits off their tees. She averaged in the mid to high 40s off those tees, occasionally posting her team's low score.

"It helps me," she said. "I know I'm hitting from behind the boys sometimes, but it's making me stronger."

Baker also made birdie on the seventh hole, but she took a seven on her final hole, the par-4 ninth. And when she learned she would have to go back out on the course, Hill stepped in to help calm her.

"I know how nervous she was," Hill said.

"She just told me to relax and do my thing," Baker said.

Playoff is a test of nerves

But Baker said she was nowhere near relaxed once the crowd gathered and the playoff began.

"I was shaking the whole time," she said. "That's the worst I've ever been. I probably pictured double the amount (of people) that was actually there. It felt like there were people everywhere around me."

Peace won the first extra hole with a par, leaving Baker and Rankin to battle it out for the last state spot. (The top five players not on qualifying teams earn state berths.)

Rankin's tee shot on the par-4 11th landed in a ravine short of the fairway, forcing her to take a penalty stroke and a drop. Baker hit from the rough on her second and third shots but reached the green in four, one shot ahead of Rankin.

When Baker's 5-foot bogey putt rolled into the hole, the playoff was over and her coach, family and friends were rushing to congratulate her.

Baker said she'll carry no expectations to the state tourney.

"I'm just excited to play at state now," she said. "It'll just be fun."

And Hill said she'll have more fun this year knowing a friend is nearby.

"It helps when you know somebody," she said.

Rankin, a freshman and Lincoln's No. 4 player, was an unlikely candidate for a playoff but was still disappointed by her loss.

"I came down here wanting to go to state," she said. "It's been a goal of mine since I was in sixth grade. But I've got three more chances."

Rankin's Lincoln team was aiming for second place and the team qualifying berth that went with it - defending state champion Russell County won its sixth straight regional title by 60 strokes - but the Patriots finished third with a 383, 17 shots behind runner-up Somerset.

"We were one place too short each time," Lincoln coach Jackie Pence said.

After Rankin, Lincoln's other four players shot 96 or higher, and No. 1 player Kandis Noe shot 101.

"Everybody was a little tight," Pence said.

Casey County's Natalie Wesley shot 91, missing the qualifying playoff by one stroke.


1. Russell County (RC) 306; 2. Somerset (S) 366; 3. Lincoln County (LC) 383; 4. Whitley County (WC) 387; 5. Pulaski County (PC) 406; 6. Corbin (C) 423; 7. Boyle County (BC) 425; 8. Pulaski Southwestern 433; 9. Casey County 444; 10. North Laurel 452; 11. Marion County 459; 12. Mercer County 465; 13. Middlesboro 476; 14. Williamsburg 480; 15. Taylor County 481; 16. Garrard County 543.


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