KEARNEY — Eli Fox lined up for a bogey putt on the 18th hole Tuesday. The Grand Island Central Catholic junior had no clue how important that putt was.
“I had no idea,” Fox said. “I just wanted to make it.”
Fox eyed the putt, stepped forward and tapped it toward the hole. The ball hit the edge of the cup, rolled around and fell in.
“It lipped in. I barely made it,” Fox said.
As Fox walked off the green, Central Catholic coach Craig Rupp approached Fox.
“He came off the green and I said, ‘You know you needed to make that for us to win by one,’” Rupp said.
No, Fox didn’t know. But that putt gave Central Catholic its second straight Class C state title and fourth in the past five years. The Crusaders finished the day with a 324 at Meadowlark Hills Golf Course. Battle Creek was second at 325.
The tournament was shorted to 18 holes after rain canceled Tuesday’s first round.
Rupp and all the other Central Catholic people around the 18th knew the situation. Fox needed a bogey for the Crusaders to win. A double bogey and there would have been a team playoff.
“We knew where we were at on that,” Rupp said. “I thought to myself that I probably shouldn’t say anything to him because I hadn’t been around him the whole day. I thought if he had grinded it out for 17 holes, I was going to make him grind for one more.”
And it was a grind. Fox chipped onto the green, but it wasn’t the kind of a chip he wanted. His first putt rolled past the hole, setting the stage for the dramatic ending.
“I had a really bad chip on 18,” Fox said. “I should not have had that long putt for par. I didn’t know what it meant, and I’m glad I didn’t.”
His teammates, just like Rupp, knew exactly what Fox needed on that last hole.
“We added it up,” senior Jack Goering said. “We realized a bogey wins it by one. He kind of played the chip a little farther than he wanted and then he had a two-putt to win. He blew the first putt to like three feet. It was a knee-knocker, but he knocked it down.”
Fox finished tied for second with Hartington Cedar Catholic’s Riley Kuehn and Oakland-Craig’s Ian Lundquist with a 76. Cambridge senior Preston Carbaugh fired a 74 to take the individual title.
Goering tied for fifth with a 77 after a double bogey on the 18th. Younger brother Will Goering was tied for 19th at 85. Jayden Palik tied for 22nd at 86 and Peyton Kort shot 94.
It was Jack Goering and Fox once again leading the Crusaders like they have all season.
“They stepped up today again,” Rupp said. “They just really took the team on their shoulders, but take nothing away from the other three guys. They’ve played really well. They’ve improved from day one too. This team isn’t one or two players. It’s five players. They’ve really worked hard.”
It was the third state title for Jack Goering, who will play basketball at Hastings College next season. Goering was on the state championship team as a freshmen in 2016, then missed his sophomore season with a back injury.
But he was back at full speed to help the Crusaders to the state championship a year ago.
The coaches and players say last year’s team was better, but they all expected to challenge for a state title.
“This isn’t one of my most talented teams,” Rupp said. “It is one of my most strong-willed teams. The last month they really put a lot of practice in. They really worked hard.”
Jack Goering said he thought the Crusaders had a chance at yet another state title.
“We lost two really good players. Gavin Fox (Eli’s older brother) has won three so he’s a really good player,” he said. “Peyton and Jayden did a really good job of getting better this year. They were on the course all the time working on their game. They’ve come a long way.”
That’s just what the Crusaders expected to happen.
“We’re the kind of team that will get better throughout the year,” Fox said. “We really put in a lot of work. I knew by the end of it we’d be in contention no matter what happened.”
In the end, it came down to that final putt by Fox, even if he didn’t know it.
“I tell these kids at the beginning of the year, a lot of these tournaments are decided by one, two or three strokes so you never give up on a hole,” Rupp said. “You have to feel that your card is going to be counted at the end of the day.”
Doniphan-Trumbull finished 13th as a team. Junior Griffin Hendricks shot 81 to finish tied for ninth.