FORT LORAMIE — Just like one of his drives off the tee, Adam Ballas’ assessment of the Shelby County Athletic League’s golf tournament was straight and true.
“The league is a lot more competitive this year. I feel like last year all we had to do was play well. This year that may not even be enough,” the Fort Loramie sophomore said. “Just play our best and stay focused. If we win, we win. If we don’t, we don’t.”
Fort Loramie won the SCAL preview on Aug. 10 at Shelby Oaks, topping runner-up Botkins by seven strokes. Since then no less than four programs — Botkins, Fairlawn, Houston and Fort Loramie — have tied or broken their school records for a nine or 18-hole round this season. One of the strongest SCAL seasons in recent memory could provide for a tighter SCAL title chase Thursday.
Fort Loramie and Botkins enter tied in the SCAL standings with one loss each. Anna and Houston are tied with two losses. Fairlawn remains in the hunt, too.
“I think the fact our league is so good it kind of takes the pressure off,” Fort Loramie coach Brad Turner said. “It’s going to take a good score to win that tournament. A good team is going to win it. Hopefully it’s us, but with the competition like it is it’s not like we have that bulls-eye on our back. There are five teams that can post a good score and win that thing.
“Top to bottom the league is the best I’ve ever seen and I’d imagine the best it’s ever been. We have some really good young players in the Shelby County League and that’s exciting.”
It still begins with the Redskins and Ballas. Ballas shot 70 at the preview to win medalist honors and break the school record of 72 held by four former Redskins. He’s also a standout runner on the cross country team with a personal record of 17:58.96 this season.
All seven SCAL teams placed at least one golfer in the top 10 at the preview. Joining Ballas was runner-up Bryce Cobb, a junior from Anna who shot 74, Houston junior Ethan Funk, Anna junior Carter Gordon, Botkins freshman J.J. Meyer, Fairlawn junior Matt Muller, Russia sophomore Ross Fiessinger, Jackson Center junior Carson Regula, Botkins junior Jaydon Wendel and Fort Loramie sophomore Aiden Wehrman.
This season Fort Loramie returned four of the five golfers that helped the Redskins finish ninth at the Division III state tournament last October. Botkins also qualified and finished 12th.
Caeleb Meyer, Devin Ratermann and Carson Barhorst have provided solid senior leadership and Wehrman adds depth to the varsity lineup. Meyer and Ratermann were also on the Redskins’ 2018 state team that finished 12th.
“This team has a lot more experience,” said Meyer, who is not expected to play Thursday because of an injury. “All of us went to the tournament last year so we’ve faced that pressure. … I feel pretty confident (about league). Obviously those teams play Shelby Oaks a lot more so they have an advantage. We’ll try to shoot our best and see what happens.”
Added Ballas: “Those three seniors have been to state more times than anybody else in Fort Loramie history. They know what it’s like to be in pressure situations because they’ve been there so often. I think they’re great for helping us with those situations.”
Last season’s SCAL title kicked off a run for Fort Loramie that included a runner-up finish at the D-III sectional tournament, the program’s first district championship and a second consecutive (and overall) state appearance. It might not be as easy this time with tougher competition.
“I feel like there’s a lot of good teams in the county this year and we’ve got a good chance at winning,” Wehrman said. “I know that course is the home course for most teams in the county … but with the guys on this team we can get it done. I feel confident.”
Though Meyer isn’t expected to play, his experience and advice gives Turner a second coach on the course for the Redskins. That could come in handy until Meyer is able to play again. Having three seniors in the varsity lineup — Zach Pleiman was the lone senior in 2019 — has already benefited Turner’s team as far as competition and camaraderie.
“Hanging with the seniors outside of golf. After a match going to watch the Thursday Night Football game or going out to eat. That’s been the best part,” said Wehrman, who also shared the seniors’ best advice on the course. “Every stroke matter. We learned that this year losing to Botkins on a (fifth-score) tiebreaker. Every person matters. Every stroke matters.”
Perhaps even more so at this year’s SCAL tournament.