By BRETT MARSHALL
WICHITA — In golf, the putter can be called a magic wand when it is working.
And it can be like the devil when it's not.
For Garden City High School's Abbey Campbell and Abbi Shaddix, it was just that type of day at Rolling Hills Country Club on Monday at the Class 6A girls state championship.
And despite both admittedly struggling on the tricky and fast rolling greens at Rolling Hills, Campbell strung together a solid round of 5-over-par 78 to finish third after claiming a sudden-death playoff against Anne Willman of team champions Shawnee Mission East.
For Shaddix, a junior, it will be a day that was full of promise and of what-could-have-beens. She finished with an 80, good for sixth, but she will likely look back and know she was right on the precipice of challenging for the state title with four holes remaining.
Those two led the Lady Buffs to a solid fifth-place team finish with 361, while Shawnee Mission East's title came with a score of 343. Maize was second at 348, followed by Topeka-Washburn Rural at 350 and Olathe Northwest at 357.
All in all, a strong showing for a team that finished second a year ago. This time, the inexperience of a young Lady Buffs team showed, but it also showed promise for first-year coach Melinda Base.
"I couldn't be more proud of the girls," Base said. "I can't say enough about how hard the girls worked through the season. Abbey and Abbi, I'm sure they feel there's shots left out there, but they worked their tails off to get where they are."
Junior Megan Steward shot a 101 and sophomore Lindsay Bradstreet a 102 to round out the four counting scores for the Lady Buffs. Freshmen Hannah Leiker and Kendra Martin, playing in just their third varsity meet, shot 112 and 124, respectively.
"When you consider we lost a state champion golfer (Mackenzie Thayer) and a four-year starter (Anna Robinson) to graduation, and then losing Audrey (senior Gerber, out with a torn ACL), I think these girls did a remarkable job."
For Campbell, getting third was somewhat bittersweet as she finished out a stellar four-year varsity career with her best showing at the state meet.
"I was just one off second and it just makes me rethink shots that I could've played better," Campbell said. "I hit the ball the best I have all year today, but I just couldn't get the feel of these greens. I had four, 3-putts. It wasn't so much the short putts, but it was the lag putts that I couldn't get close and that put pressure on the shorter putts."
Campbell's nines of 38-40 put her into the playoff against Willman, who is K-State bound to play next year. On the 10th hole, the first of the playoff, both players bombed drives into the center cut of the fairway, but Campbell was 40 yards in front of Willman.
The SM East golfer left her 80-yard approach shot about 20 feet below the hole while Campbell, who had birdied the same hole earlier in the day, knocked her 30-yard, 60-degree wedge to within 8 feet of the hole, just to the left.
"I just wanted to make sure I got a four, because I knew she had a tough (second) putt," Campbell said.
Willman's putt went by about 3 feet and above the hole while Campbell's birdie putt slid just on the lower edge where she tapped in. Willman then pushed her putt just off the right lip of the hole, ensuring Campbell's third-place medal.
"It kinda makes me really sad to know this is the last one," said Campbell. "It's gone by so fast. This was the best course set-up for me. If the putter had been better, I could have been right there."
For Shaddix, who earlier this year tied the all-time Kansas girls 18-hole scoring mark with a 66 at Wichita's Sim Park while also claiming the Western Athletic Conference Player of the Year honor, the day produced emotional highs and lows.
Her front-nine 37 put her in front by one shot over Campbell, Alexa Henderson of Blue Valley West, Judd and Kaleigh Ashen of Blue Valley Northwest.
Coming to the par-4 15th, though, Shaddix had fallen two shots behind Judd. There, she faced a long and breaking birdie putt that she left to the right about two feet away. Judd had left her birdie putt three feet short.
Judd missed her par putt and a make by Shaddix would have pulled her to within one. She just pushed the putt to the right, making bogey and remaining two shots back with three holes to play.
"That really kinda started things going down," a disappointed Shaddix said afterward. "I just kinda let that get to me and I had a hard time getting over it."
On the 16th, 17th and 18th holes, Shaddix found four bunkers and finished bogey, bogey, double-bogey for her incoming 43 and the 80.
"Golf is definitely a mental game and when you make mistakes you've got to get over it, and that's the part that I've got to work on," Shaddix said.
In spite of the struggle at the end, Shaddix played sterling golf early. She had one birdie and two bogeys on the outgoing nine for the 1-over 37.
"I hit my irons really good today, and early my putting was pretty good, too," Shaddix said. "The back nine I was going along pretty well. I chunked an approach shot on 12 (bogey) but other than that I thought I was playing well."
With her senior year on the distant horizon, Shaddix said she will take time off, play some winter and spring tournaments before tackling another busy summer schedule in 2013.
"This will make me stronger, there's going to be another day," Shaddix said. "I improved so much this year and I'm excited for the future."
For Base, the future of the Lady Buffs looks bright. With Shaddix as the anchor next year, Steward returns for her senior season while Bradstreet will be a junior and Leiker and Martin sophomores.
"These young girls came a long way this season," Base said. "They're excited about the game, they're disappointed they didn't play better, but I think they have improved so much. They're a great group and I think they'll just keep getting better."
See results in Scoreboard, Page B2.