By BRETT MARSHALL
DODGE CITY — When state golf tournaments are hosted by courses in southwest Kansas, one almost always assumes that it will serve as an advantage for those schools from the area which have qualified to compete.
Such seemed to be the case on Monday at Mariah Hills Golf Course when the Dodge City Municipal course hosted the Class 2A boys state tournament.
Even Stanton County and Syracuse coaches Marty Cook and Rick Mathias were optimistic about their team's chances heading into the one-day, 18-hole championship.
And, even with a mild wind and cooler than normal temperatures, neither the Trojans or the Bulldogs, could muster enough low scores to challenge for a top three finish and take home a trophy.
With scores being higher than predicted, Oberlin-Decatur Community won with a 339 total, and the Trojans and Bulldogs were well back in the pack of 12 teams. Cook's squad struggling to a 354 total and sixth place, while Mathias' youthful squad (two juniors and four sophomores) were ninth at 358.
In perhaps the biggest surprise of the day, though, Elkhart's Hunter Burnett, whose season low score had been an 80 at the Cimarron Invitational, garnered medalist honors with a 4-over-par 75 on the 6,500-yard layout. That was good for a one-stroke victory over defending state champion Kade Brown of Oberlin, who collapsed on the final three holes with a double bogey, bogey, bogey finish to end in a tie for second with Jared Oelke of Ellinwood at 76. Brown did win the playoff for runner-up honors.
Oberlin's 339 was three shots in front of Sterling's 342 with Ellis another shot back at 343 to round out the team trophy recipients. With scores surprisingly high, it took an 86 to crack the top 20 for medals, and several area golfers managed to make it into that category.
South Gray's Trenton Holloway had an 84, while Syracuse's Cameron Coleman medaled for the second straight year with an 86. Stanton County was paced by Jeremy Amerin, who also came in with an 86 to share in the tie for 18th position with Coleman and four other golfers.
Midway through the round on Monday, Stanton County's Cook was downcast in the way his team got started.
"We had a good day of practice on Sunday, but we just didn't get off to a very good start today," Cook said at the time.
The Trojan coach also was mindful that his team had been erratic all season, shooting scores from as low as 314 at their own invitational (and 319 at regionals a week earlier) to as high as 364. He was hoping for something in the middle of that range, but it never materialized. That despite having three players on the roster from the team that finished fourth in 2011 at Buffalo Dunes Golf Course in Garden City.
But the Trojans struggled mightily, with Brad Ellis, runner-up at regionals, and Adrian Gum each shooting an 89. Gage Martin was next with a 90, while Cade Hightower had a 96 and Ira Kullot a 107.
Syracuse, meanwhile, had its inexperienced group of players competing as a team for the first time since 2010, when the Bulldogs were runners-up at Crestwood Country Club in Pittsburg. But the Bulldogs, too, struggled getting off to a good start after an early morning shower had calmed the wind and cooled the temperature to start the tournament.
After Coleman's 86, the Bulldogs had scores of 87 from Chase Keller, 88 from Tierney Cashler and a 97 from Jake Phillips. Non-counting scores were 101 by Chandler Nelson and 108 by Deric Nelson.
For Mathias, who has been coaching for three-plus decades and guided the Bulldogs boys and girls to multiple state championships, it was a disappointing end to the team's season despite its youth.
"I really felt getting the team here that we were good enough to make a run at a top three finish," Mathias said. "The kids just didn't play well and we had scores that we hadn't seen all year. It's disappointing, but I hope the experience that they had today will put a fire on their backside and give them the incentive to work on their games. They need to play a lot of summer tournaments and work to improve their short games. That's what we're gonna have to do to become more competitive."
As for Elkhart's Burnett, the win provided the Wildcat program with its first individual state golf champion, and nobody was more surprised than the winner himself.
"After my practice rounds here, I didn't see any way that I'd shoot that kind of score," Burnett said. "I've struggled with my putting all year, but today the putting and chipping was pretty good and that was the difference."
Two big shots came to mind for Burnett on the incoming nine, the first when he laced a 5-iron to within 20 feet on the par-5 12th hole and 2-putted for birdie and then on the short, par-4 17th where he hit his wedge to within 15 feet from 100 yards out and dropped the birdie putt.
"It's an awesome feeling, man," a smiling Burnett said. "I never could've dreamed this up. Maybe the top 10, but I guess I just lucked out today."
Oberlin's team title was its first in golf as well, the best previous being a runner-up finish in 1983. The last time the Red Devils qualified for state was 1998.
Results in Scoreboard, Page B2.