Anyone with any knowledge of the Hillsboro High School boys golf team knew that this year could be a special one for the Hiltoppers. On Monday, Oct. 7, the Toppers took the first step in making that vision a reality as they captured their fourth consecutive regional championship.
With no seniors on last year's squad that finished third in the Class 1A state tournament, the Hillsboro boys have been the ones to watch all year long. That didn't change on Monday as the Toppers shot a 310 as a team to beat back a glut of parochial powerhouses, including Belleville Althoff and Waterloo Gibault, who were second and third with scores of 317 and 347.
While the fact that the Toppers won the 13-team regional was no shock, the sailing was far from smooth. Hillsboro battled through tough lies and even tougher competition to take the top spot and were the only team to have all six players shoot in the 80s or better.
Two of those six would do even better as Alex White and Alex Eickhoff both shot in the 70s to finish second and third respectively. White lit the course on fire with a 33 on the front nine, before coming back down to Earth slightly with a 39 on the back half of the course for an even-par 72. Eickhoff would be nearly as good on the front, shooting a two-under 34, and matched his teammate with a 39 on the back nine.
Only two other players would shoot in the 70s, Belleville Althoff's Jack Bruening with a 74 and Alton Marquette's William Roderfeld with a 76. Althoff junior Avery Irwin would take medalist honors for the match, shooting a blistering 3-under-par 69 on the day with a 34 on the front and a 35 on the back.
As good as Eickhoff and White were, Hillsboro would have still finished in the top two if their scores didn't count as the Toppers' three, four, five and six men combined for a 340.
Dane Huber would be just behind the lead pack with an 80, good enough to tie for sixth overall. Huber would shoot a 39 on the front nine, then finished with a 41 on the second set of holes. Owen Malloy would have the other scoring round for Hillsboro with an 85, with rounds of 41 and 44 to his credit.
Wilson Hamby and Gunnar Micnheimer wouldn't be far behind their teammates. Hamby was a stroke behind Malloy with an 86 after shooting a 42 and a 44, while Micnheimer had rounds of 45 and 44 for a final score of 89, a round that would have made the top four on any other team.
The Toppers will now vie for their second straight sectional title, which, like four regional championships, would be another first for the Hillsboro boys golf program.
To do so, they'll have to knock off a murder's row of sectional opponents, including Trenton Sectional champion Breese Mater Dei, Effingham Sectional champion and runner-up St. Anthony and Carmi-White County and Anna-Jonesboro Sectional champion Campbell Hill Trico.
Trico shot a 324 at Union County Country Club in Anna, while St. Anthony and Carmi-White County finished with a 313 and a 318 at the Effingham Country Club. The one to watch though, may be the Knights of Mater Dei, who shot a 4-over-par 292 as a team at Governor's run in Carlyle.
The Toppers and Knights have clashed before, with Hillsboro beating Mater Dei by four strokes at the Edwardsville tournament.
The Zeigler-Royalton Sectional will be a new course (Franklin County Country Club in West Frankfort) with new challenges though, and with 12 highly capable teams vying for just three state qualifying spots. If the Toppers can advance out of Monday's sectional, they'll be the first team since 1999 to 2002 to accomplish the feat, which ended with the 2002 squad taking home second place.
Hillsboro already has a second (2017) and a third (2018), but the next step in maybe something even better comes on Monday.
October 7 at Alton
1A Marquette Regional
Spencer T. Olin - Par 72
Boys Team Results: 1. Hillsboro 310; 2. Belleville Althoff 317; 3. Waterloo Gibault 347; 4. Alton Marquette 349; 5. Vandalia 360; 6. Metro-East Lutheran 370; 7. Father McGivney 398; 8. Litchfield 409; 9. Ramsey 418; 10. Gillespie 437; 11. Valmeyer 458; 12. Mt. Olive 468; 13. Staunton 471.
Hillsboro (310) - Alex White 72, Alex Eickhoff 73, Dane Huber 80, Owen Malloy 85, Wilson Hamby 86, Gunnar Micnheimer 89.
Belleville Althoff (317) - Avery Irwin 69, Jack Bruening 74, Max Bruening 85, Carlo Armorado 89, Connor Wilson 89, George Orlet 90.
Waterloo Gibault (347) - Ryan Kruse 81, Alex Sweeney 87, Nick Weilbacher 89, Ryan Bollinger 90, Jack Range 91, Ian Bollinger 92.
Individual Top Ten: 1. Avery Irwin (Althoff) 69; 2. Alex White (Hillsboro) 72; 3. Alex Eickhoff (Hillsboro) 73; 4. Jack Bruening (Althoff) 74; 5. William Roderfeld (Marquette) 76; 6. Dane Huber (Hillsboro) 80; 6. Chase Laack (Vandalia) 80; 8. Ryan Kruse (Gibault) 81; 9. Aidan O'Keefe (Marquette) 83; 10. Owen Malloy (Hillsboro) 85; 10. Max Bruening (Althoff) 85.
Individual Sectional Qualifiers: William Roderfeld (Marquette) 76; Chase Laack (Vandalia) 80; Aidan O'Keefe (Marquette) 83; Jacob Schaal (Vandalia) 86; Anthony Boston (Litchfield) 86; Antonio Ybarra (Metro-East Lutheran) 89; Elliott Wilson (Metro-East Lutheran) 89; William Schwartz (Marquette) 92; Evan Yasitis (Father McGivney) 94; Riley Ruckman (Vandalia) 94.