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Prep Golf: Hornets in a league of their own

Salisbury’s Grace Yatawara and Isabella Rusher were in a league of their own, and Shelby Holden held her own.

The result was an overwhelming 42-shot victory by the Hornets in the two-day 1A/2A golf state championships at Foxfire. Salisbury won its fourth straight team title. Rusher, a Richmond commit and the only senior, went 4 for 4 as far as playing on championship teams.

“We lost a great talent (Madeline Hoskins), but we still thought we were the best team,” Salisbury coach Dale Snyder said. “Experience helps, and all three girls played about as well as they can play.”

Only five sub-80 rounds were carded during the tournament. Yatawara, a junior who committed to East Carolina after the first round, fired 72-73 to win the individual title. Rusher, the runner-up, produced the finest round of the event on Tuesday, a 1-under 71 to go with her 76 on Monday. Her 147 was 15 strokes better than Avery’s Paige Church, who shot 79 Tuesday and placed third.

In her career, Rusher was individual state champion twice and runner-up twice.

“Looking back, I couldn’t be prouder,” she said. “I didn’t hold anything back today, I went for every pin and I tried my best to win it. Hats off to Grace. She played great. I was proud of her.”

Rusher probably struck the ball as well Tuesday in her final high school match as she ever has.

“I had a 3-foot eagle putt that lipped out and about five more good chances for birdies,” Rusher said. “But that’s golf. You don’t make every putt.”

Neither Yatawara nor Rusher made a double bogey in the event.

“But I came close,” Yatawara said. “I had to get up and down from the pine needles once and I had to make a 10-footer for a bogey today.”

Yatawara finished with six birdies, seven bogeys and 23 pars. Rusher made four birdies, seven bogeys and 25 pars. They were that close.

“I really played well in this tournament,” Yatawara said. “I did some tweaking of a few things when I had a lesson on Thursday, and everything fell into place. I hit the ball well — I putted well.”

The Hornets shot an even 500 and were 10 strokes better on Tuesday than they were on Monday when they established a commanding 19-stroke lead. Avery (542), Croatan (550), Hendersonville (560) and West Davidson (567) were next in line.

Holden, who shot 107-101 — 208, tied for 36th in the 78-player field and provided that essential third score for the Hornets.

“I’m ecstatic,” Holden said. “When I was a freshman I was on the team but didn’t play in the state championship. Last year, I played in the state, but my score didn’t count. This year feels a lot different. I feel like I earned a championship ring this time.”

Holden got off to a shaky start Tuesday. Her tee shot on No. 1 vanished in the pine needles.

“We found two other balls that were buried in there, but we couldn’t find mine,” Holden said.

Holden started her round 6-9-8, but then she bogeyed or parred the next six holes. When Holden made the turn at 50, the Hornets knew they were going to be champions again. Holden finished strong, with a par and three bogeys on her final four holes.

“She never got rattled,” Snyder said.

Holden impressed her talented teammates. With play backed up, Yatawara, in the next group, was often on the tee with Holden.

“She really wasn’t nervous,” Yatawara said. “A lot of girls can shoot good scores in the regionals, but then the state tournament comes and it’s a much bigger stage. Shelby handled it great.”

Croatan was 14 shots better than Salisbury in regional competition, but the Hornets were dealing with a difficult course in Mount Airy. Rusher said the Hornets were “a little concerned,” but they blew away everyone at Foxfire.

“The girls were phenomenal,” Snyder said. “Grace was as consistent as can be. Isabella was on her game, all over the pin, tapping in pars. Coaches were coming up to me and telling me how much fun they were to watch. It was a great day and it was great year. It was a thrill to be part of it.”

As the senior, Rusher gets to pick out championship rings that arrive in spring.

Holden can wear this one with a smile.

“Shelby has this great attitude,” Rusher said. “She’s a huge part of this team, and she contributed her very best when we needed it.”

Mike London: 704-797-4259; twitter.com/



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