SEBRING - Playing at home has its perks.
Sebring used its knowledge of Sun 'n Lake Golf Club, specifically the Deer Run course, to cruise into first place in the boys Class 2A-Region 6 tournament on Monday. Playing on their home course, the Blue Streaks bested some of the state's top talent from the Tampa area, proving that small town Florida can still compete with bigger schools from the metropolitan areas.
"The home course made a big difference," said Sebring coach Vince Liles. "The other schools weren't familiar with Deer Run; we were. Some of our guys struggled to keep it in play, but so did a lot of the players, much worse than we did."
"Two of our guys were great, though, Jeremy Camino and Nic Staffieri both finished under 80." The Blue Streaks shot a sizzling 326 to best second place Lake Wales by 13 strokes. Osceloa was third with 342, followed by Tampa Robinson in fourth with 353, while Lake Gibson finished fifth with 354. Largo came in sixth at 359 and Dixie Hollins was seventh with 406, while Tampa Jefferson and Lennard rounded out the bottom two spots with a 447 and 466, respectively.
Four individuals represented their schools as well. Among them was Auburndale's Zack Smith, who led the group with an 82. Armwood's Evin Jenkins and Auburndale's Scott Sponaugle followed, each shooting a 96, and St. Petersburgs Dixie Hollins' Alex Henley was fourth with a 134.
Sebring's Camino had the day's lowest score, shooting a 78 to edge Streaks teammate Staffieri and Robinson's Andrew Skora by one stroke to capture the top spot for individual medalist.
Camino was all the medalist in the district round, and he's peaking at the right time." "He's just been great," Liles said. "He's come to play and he's shooting better than some of the Tampa kids, which shows the kind of skill he has, both in his swing and putting game. He's come a long way."
The rest of Sebring's scores were nearly as solid, with Cade Damboise finishing third with an 84, followed by Ben Tubbs and Cullen Lovett, who both shot an 85.
Tubbs, this season's Sertoma Junior Golf Tour Player of the Year, was unusually shaky at Monday's tournament. On the 18th hole, he found the green quite easily, but had trouble making a routine putt.
"Ben didn't play as well today as he usually does," Liles said. "He's just a freshman, though, so the fact that he's even competing is a feat in itself."
"He'll need to forget about what he did today and push it out of his mind so he's ready for state - because it only gets tougher from here."
The Streaks will be moving on to the state tournament for the first time since 2003, back when they were led by Cody Brownell.
It's also the first time in school history that both of Sebring's golf teams will be moving onto state, as the girls finished second in their tournament, also on Monday, at Highlands Ridge North.
"It's pretty awesome," Liles said. "We hadn't been to state in a long while, and neither had the girls. And now to have us both be going next week is really amazing."
A two-day event, the 36-hole state tournament begins Tuesday at Mission Inn Resort and Club in Howey-in-the-Hills, and will certainly test the Streaks acumen due to its rolling and demanding lay out.
There will be a practice round on Monday, but Liles knows that playing Mission Inn presents an uphill battle for his Streaks.
"It's a much tighter course," Liles said. "It's beautiful, but it's an older course and pretty difficult. We'll also be battling some of the state's top teams. And it only gets tougher, because now we'll be facing a lot of the private schools, like the Lake Mary Preps of the world."
Old Florida courses are notoriously difficult, and Sebring hasn't played on a course like this all season.
"For us to win, we'll need to have at least four good scores in the low 70s."
Other impressive individual scores primarily came from players in the Tampa area.
Lake Wales' T. Farrow finished with a 79, tying for the second-lowest score of the day. Osceloa's Mike Lambert shot an 81 to lead his team, while Largo's Shane Stockings finished with an impressive 82 to pace the Packers. Juan Valencia led St. Petersburg's Dixie Hollins with an 85, and Dylan McGaw paced Lake Gibson with an 86.