VASSALBORO — The turnaround began in the spring. Right around the time the members of the Erskine Academy golf team, still stinging from adding to its string of also-ran finishes in the state championships, gathered in Mark Bailey’s classroom to promise their coach that there wouldn’t be another one.

“They dropped by my classroom and said ‘Coach, we’re going to be really good,'” Bailey said. “All of them, really.”

Turns out it was more than just bravado. The Eagles went to work in the summer, won in the fall and finished it off on Saturday, shooting 317 to edge defending champion Cape Elizabeth (325) at Natanis Golf Course to win the Class B state championship, the school’s first-ever golf title. Old Town (331) was third, followed by Yarmouth (333) and Lake Region and Mount Desert Island (359) in the top five.

“It’s unbelievable,” Bailey said. “We’ve finished fifth, sixth and seventh the last three years, and just to get into that top spot, it’s like a dream come true.”

Gorham had five players shoot 82 or better and needed each one to clip Mt. Ararat (317) for the Class A title, with Falmouth (322), Scarborough (323) and Greely (327) finishing close behind.

“They all played to their potential today,” Rams coach Rick Altham said. “That’s what we talk about all season long, how important it is for every player to fulfill their role.”

There wasn’t as much drama in the Class C match. Mattanawcook Academy rode two-time defending individual champion Logan Thompson’s 4-under 68 to a second straight championship, scoring 311 to beat St. Dominic (329), Winthrop (347), Dirigo (350) and Houlton (352).

“I felt like I had the potential to have a breakout round, but I had everything going today,” said Thompson, who had the best score across all three classes. “I just had to get a putt to fall to build my confidence, and then I took it from there.”

Confidence was in ample supply among the Erskine players, even with a Cape Elizabeth team that returned last fall’s individual champion in Ryan Collins leading the competition. The Eagles qualified two freshmen for last year’s individual championships, rolled to the Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference B championship in the regular season and had the home-course advantage at Natanis’ 36-hole course. They knew they’d be in the mix — and with a break or two, leading it.

“These guys are out here every day, they know every inch of this golf course,” Bailey said. “We thought we’d be one of the contenders, but the southern Maine schools have just been so strong in this tournament.”

This time, the school from South China was the one pacing the field. Sophomores Justin Browne and Connor Paine had 80s at Natanis’ Tomahawk course, as did senior Robert Harmon, but the biggest impact came from a player who wasn’t in the fold last year. Junior Aaron Pion, a transfer from Winslow, fired a 77 to lead the Eagles, using back-to-back birdies to stabilize himself after going 3-over his first two holes.

“I figured whatever I did, it would help my team one way or another,” Pion said. “I knew we had the players capable of shooting around what I shot today, but being able to know that my score helped push my team through to a victory is just unbelievable.”

“He’s a tough kid,” Bailey said. “All season long, we’ve been preaching to these guys, just keep grinding. It’s 18 holes, it’s a marathon, not a sprint. That’s what he did. He didn’t give in.”

Cape Elizabeth got a 76 from Austin Legge and a 79 from Lauren Schonewolf, but couldn’t muster the depth necessary to keep its run going and add a seventh state title.

“We knew we were coming to someone’s home course and we’d have to play that much harder, grind that much harder,” coach Chris Whitney said. “In all honesty, I think if you asked my own team, they’d tell you that there are three people up there that would really like to go and start again. … The kids have higher expectations.”

Gorham secured its fourth title and first since 2012 — and needed every player that made the trip to Vassalboro to do it. Ryan Kaczmarek (77), Lucas Roop (79), Brandon Desjardin (80) and Marc Yankowsky (81) had the Rams’ best scores, but it wasn’t enough when Mt. Ararat turned in scores for Caleb Manuel (73), Cam Cox (75), Cade Charron (84) and Will Kavanaugh (85). The title came down to the fifth scorer, and with Gorham’s Cam Stevens beating Mt. Ararat’s Steve Schuman, 82-96, that gave the Rams the championship — and a chance to exhale.

“You see that you’re tied, you just don’t know what’s going to happen,” Altham said. “And then that final score goes up, it’s like a big gasp that they actually did it. I’m just so proud of the team.”

Kaczmarek’s 77 was his lowest round in a tournament. Good timing.

“I went on a little bogey streak, and then I made a birdie on 1 and that kind of sparked my round,” he said. “I was hitting the shots I wanted to hit, all the shots were clean. I just trusted the process.”

“Ryan’s a very composed person. He’s a hard worker, he’s worked hard to get where he is,” Altham said. “Not a lot fazes him, so when he’s in a good frame of mind out there, he plays one shot at a time. I know it’s cliche, but that’s what he does. And that’s what it takes.”

Any chance of upending Mattanawcook in Class C ended when Thompson, an individual champion as a freshman and sophomore, caught fire from the first tee and didn’t let up. He closed out his first nine holes on the Arrowhead course with an eagle on the fourth hole, then added another on the ninth to dip deeper below par.

“I always shoot right around even par, so I always know that I have the game to shoot a little bit under,” he said. “I chipped in for eagle (on the fourth hole) and that’s when I knew I might go low. … I always get a little bit nervous, but I felt pretty calm today knowing that I’ve been here a lot of times.”

The rich got richer when teammate Max Woodman carded a 74 for Class C’s second-lowest score, and Conor McLaughlin (83) and Jeff Garfield (86) rounded out the Mattanawcook scores.

Drew Bonifant — 621-5638

[email protected]

Twitter: @dbonifantMTM


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