Unaka's Lewis earns state tourney berth

Photo by Dave Boyd
Unaka's Chad Lewis watches a tee-shot sail down the fairway..

By Wes Holtsclaw
The Sullivan Central boys and University High girls golf squads did what they were expected to do Monday afternoon at the Elizabethton Golf Course, but there were a few twists throughout the Region A/AA Golf Tournament.
As players battled for a shot at the state golf tournament, to be held at Pickwick State Park in Savannah, Unaka's Chad Lewis followed a tough 44 on the front nine and rallied with an overall 82 to finish fourth in the individual standings and give the Ranger program its first state qualifier since rejuvenating its program.
"It feels really good," said Lewis, the lone Unaka senior on the team. "I just tried to play my best. I didn't start out too well on the front nine, but I came around on the back and knew I had to shoot at least a one-over par to make it, and I shot two-over par.
"I guess I was lucky. You've got to have a little luck sometimes."
Lewis was tied for third individually with Union County's Josh Collins, forcing a playoff for the individual positions, and lost it to finish fourth.
"I'm just happy to go to state -- that was my goal," Lewis added.
Unaka had a two-year drought without a golf program before a group came together for this season. Lewis will set the standard for future Rangers after a solid season.
"I've been trying to get the golf team back since I was a sophomore. They quit it after my freshman year," he said. "I want to thank Bill Cline, especially, for putting in his efforts and the money and what it took to get us back our program."
While Lewis was ecstatic on the day, good rounds just weren't enough for the Elizabethton golf team.
Elizabethton's Bradley Brown and Eric Carter just missed the individual cut with an 83 and 84 respectively, and the Cyclone golf team finished the day with an overall 352, which wasn't enough to advance to the state tournament over Sullivan Central's 342 in the boys.
Central's Jason Fortner opened the day up with a blazing 77 on the course to take the boy's individual, while teammates Bryan Shipley, Dustin Moody and Patrick Dunford shot an 87, 88 and 90 to take the team title.
"I knew if I played well, I should have a good chance of winning it," said Fortner. "It was an up and down round."
Fortner shot a 41 on the front nine, but stormed back with a 36.
"After the front nine, I just told myself to calm down and just keep firing," he said. "It was a whole new nine and hopefully it would start falling. I played solid on the back."
"(Making the state tournament) was one of my main goals," he added. "I worked hard all season and it finally paid off. I'm just tickled to death that I get to go with the team, too."
One of the biggest stories of the day was in the girl's tournament as University High's Rachel Ingram once again lit up the Elizabethton course with a total afternoon high of 68, which was the best score in the tournament.
Ingram shot a 35 on the front nine from the men's tees to win a conference match against area boys' squads earlier this season.
"I didn't expect it and you can't take things for granted," the junior said. "I thought if I played my game I might have a chance, because there are some other good players out there."
Along with teammates Cindy Phillips (79) and Candice Williams (96), Ingram paced University High to the girls team title with an overall 147, with the top two scores counting to team results.
Ingram is a favorite to win the girl's state title after finishing fourth in last year's state tournament. However, she must compete with returning champion Elizabeth Dotson of Creek Wood.
"I would like to shoot better (in the state tourney)," she said. "(Today) I was wanting to shoot in the 70s, and I was mainly thinking about making it as a team."
South Greene's Brandon Rohr finished second in the boys' standings with an 80 on the afternoon.
Gatlinburg-Pittman's Stephanie Miller (91) and J. Frank White's Alancia Mason (92) finished third and fourth, respectively in the individual girls standings, while Sullivan Central's Nikki Gammon had to oust Unicoi County's Erin Tucker to take the final state tourney spot after tying with a 98.
In other local notables, Happy Valley's Kayla Vestal finished her season with a 128 off the girls tees.
Johnson County's Matt Stout (91) and Jesse Gilbert (99) fell short in the boys' competition, while University High's Daniel Foster (83) and John Tillman (85) made valiant efforts.
South Greene 359 finished third in the boys' team results, followed by Rutledge (371), University High (371) and Chuckey-Doak (374).