At this time a year ago, the Hilton Head Christian Academy golf team watched from afar as the rival Dolphins from Hilton Head Preparatory School walked away with the SCISAA state championship.
A strong group of returning starters sought to change that this time around. And they did just that Tuesday afternoon, capturing the SCISAA Class 3-A state championship by 13 strokes over perennial power Pinewood Prep at Coastal Carolina's Hackler Golf Course in Myrtle Beach.
"We have a group that's slowly coming of age," coach Doug Langhals said. " ... A couple of them have been here. They've seen it, watched it, seen their friends win it. They wanted it and they came out and got it."
The Eagles entered the day in a deadlock with Pinewood Prep atop the leaderboard. The two clubs fought through a fierce wind and chilly conditions Monday to post 312 totals, but Hilton Head Christian got the better of its SCISAA counterparts a day later, carding a 298 for a team total of 610, besting Pinewood Prep's 312-311--623. Hilton Head Prep settled for third place, with a 323-312--635 total.
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Louisville signee J.D. Lehman led the way for Hilton Head Christian, as the senior carded a team-best 71 Tuesday for a 77-71--148 total to help the Eagles pull out the title. Pinewood Prep had won the previous four state championships before Hilton Head Prep and Hilton Head Christian took home the crown in each of the last two seasons.
"He did a great job. J.D.'s been fabulous," Langhals said. "This is his fourth year playing on the team. Last year and especially this year he stepped up as the team leader."
Lehman provided the role of the savvy veteran for an Eagles team ripe with youth. The group sported a quartet of underclassmen in their state champion lineup Tuesday.
Sophomores Bryson Nimmer and Jonathon Schuble, who both carded 77-75--152 totals, aided the Eagles in their rally after watching the group finish in third place a year ago. The pair, along with Lehman, were named to the all-tournament team.
Freshmen RJ Bartolomucci (81-77--158) and J.D.'s younger brother, Matt Lehman (81-81--162), helped round out Hilton Head Christian's five-man rotation.
"Having gotten that experience last year was a big deal, for RJ especially," Langhals said. "Matt Lehman stepped in solidly into that top five spot on our team."
The group naturally has similar expectations for next season, when the core will return to the course in the hopes of garnering back-to-back titles. But for now, they are more than content soaking in this latest championship.
"Our team goal from the very beginning of the year was to come out, compete and win the state championship," Langhals said. " ... It was great for our guys to accomplish that this year."