VASSALBORO — It was raining. It was cold. The course was drenched.

Not that the Gardiner golf team seemed to care.

The Tigers wrapped up a spot in the Class B state tournament at the Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference qualifying meet Tuesday afternoon, shooting a 342 to finish first among the B schools at Natanis Golf Course and ahead of fellow qualifers Waterville (371), Erskine (382) and Maine Central Institute (388).

Mt. Ararat (318) had the lowest score in Class A, but had already punched its ticket to states by winning the KVAC shootout. Instead, berths went to Camden Hills (322), which was led by a 3-under 69 from Cole Anderson, Edward Little (340), Lewiston (349) and Messalonskee (355).

In weather that seemed more suitable for playoff football than tournament golf, with low-40s temperatures and rain that built as the day went on, Cody Rizzo, Cam Bourassa and sophomore Drew Kelley shot 80, 82 and 85, respectively, to qualify for the individual tournament and lead the Tigers as they bounced back from their first defeat of the season at last week’s KVAC shootout.

“I’m very impressed with how they responded today,” coach Chad Hopkins said. “With the rain and the cold and the pressure, them wanting it so bad, it was really cool to see them come out and play so well.”

Rizzo’s 80, the second-best Class B score, allowed him to make the cut for the individual tournament for the first time in his four years.

“That maybe made me grind a little harder. I just wanted to make the cut. That’s all I cared about,” he said. “I knew it was going to be crappy, but you’ve just got to go out and play.”

Bourassa, another senior, rode a hot short game to his score.

“The club’s just going to dig in most of your shots,” he said. “It separates the good players from the bad players, and I think our team did pretty well today.”

Second went to Waterville, which was led by an 85 from freshman Brandon Bearce, while David Barre turned in an 88 and Charlie Haberstock scored a 97.

“I didn’t even know we finished second,” coach Khristian Clement. “That was the best (Bearce) has played all year, so he really stepped up when it counts. … They showed up in some tough conditions. I’m really proud of them.”

With Conner Paine leading the way with a 74, Erskine made the cut while also getting an 88 from Justin Browne that qualified him for the individual tournament. The best round of the day in Class B surprised even the player that shot it.

“I hadn’t been playing that much lately, so I came out expecting a 78 to 80,” said Paine, who started with a par and a bogey but stabilized his round with a birdie on the third hole. “On the first couple of holes I noticed that I was hitting it pretty solid, and I was putting pretty good. … After (the third hole), that kind of got my round going, just because I knew I could hit some good shots after that bogey.”

MCI got an 86 from Thomas Parker, a 96 from Anna Smith — who qualified for the individual girls tournament — and a 101 from Avery Gosselin while holding off Nokomis, which got an 82 from Sam Smestad and a 95 from Lindsay Cote but still finished four points shy of a state berth.

Messalonskee’s depth paid off as the Eagles made the cut. Brandon and Bradley Condon shot 90 and 97, respectively, as the top two, but No. 3 Ben Hellen came through with an 84 and No. 4 Dylan Cunningham shot an 86 to help Messalonskee edge Leavitt by nine shots for the final spot.

“Our depth really does help. It really does,” coach Jim Kerschner said. “I honestly didn’t think we’d get in. You know, when you’re playing freshmen and sophomores, in certain cases, you never know what you’re going to get.”

One of those sophomores, James Smith, who was playing in his first match of the season, came through with a 93 out of the No. 6 spot that became the Eagles’ fourth score.

“He’s been playing better and better, so I brought him,” Kerschner said. “For a young kid, that’s pretty impressive.”

The first match of the day at the Arrowhead course featured two of the best players in the state, with Anderson dueling Mt. Ararat’s Caleb Manuel. Manuel shot 72 to finish three strokes behind the Florida State-bound standout.

“We always want to play together in these things,” said Anderson, who hit 16 greens in regulation. “This is our third time playing … and this also sort of sets up the pairings for the individual. We sort of jokingly said to each other ‘Hey, shoot the same exact score today please.’ At least for me, I want to be in the same group as him because he’s my toughest competition.”

Cony, led by 89s from Alex Stewart and Quincy Tobias, shot 366 and fell just short of qualifying.

“We made tremendous strides this year,” coach Shawn Johnson said. “They’ve come so far. I can’t say this is a losing season.”

In addition to Manuel’s 72, Mt. Ararat also got qualifying scores from Cade Charron (78), Will Kavanaugh (84), Ben Hickson (84) and Ty Henke (88), while Parker Hilchey (81) joined Anderson among Camden Hills players in the individual tournament. Lewiston’s Parker Thibault (79), Lawrence’s Matt Brown (86) and Caribou/Presque Isle’s Gabe Rand (88) also made the Class A cut.

In Class B, an individual spot also went to Medomak Valley’s Carson Murphy (89). Girls tournament berths went to (in addition to MCI’s Smith and Nokomis’s Cote) Leavitt’s Ruby Haylock (77) and Morghan Dutil (94), Skowhegan’s Jaycie Christopher (90), Lincoln Academy’s Ava Morse (92) and Spruce Mountain’s Haley Turcotte (94).

Drew Bonifant — 621-5638

[email protected]

Twitter: @dbonifantMTM

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