By Justin Sokeland
HENRYVILLE – As the eagle putt fell, Bedford North Lawrence’s Ethan Stanley exploded with uncharacteristic emotion, piercing the heavy moment with a Tiger Woods fist pump and punctuating it with some chest pounding.
Calling that putt, on the sixth green at Champions Pointe, the most memorable of his high school career is not hyperbole. When you’re running out of holes and dreams are fading, clutch actions should be celebrated. Stanley had reason to briefly drop his steel facade and reveal the truth.
Stanley’s eagle (on his 15th hole of the day) and his closing birdie on the final green capped a dramatic charge to the IHSAA state finals. He scrambled out of the pack with his late rush to post an even-par 72 during the regional, earning one of the individual spots at Prairie View for the state championship on Tuesday and Wednesday.
BNL failed to advance as a team, finishing a respectable sixth in the 18-team field with a total score of 331. The top three teams, plus the top five individuals who are not members of qualifying teams, reached the final stage of the state tournament series.
That’s how Stanley made it for the fourth consecutive year, quite a rare feat. But he was on the brink of elimination, thanks to a shaky putter that always earns a complaint from its owner, until three huge strokes on the last four holes.
The eagle, set up by a 200-yard 5-iron on the par-5 hole, was first. That pushed Stanley back to even for the round. The next was a crucial bogey from 5 feet on the eighth hole, after a wayward tee shot into a hazard got him in trouble. And the last was the 20-footer on the ninth, a putt that did a 360-degree spin around the cup before plummeting into darkness.
“Normally I don’t give myself a chance to fist pump,” Stanley said. “I don’t do anything that exciting. Coming down the stretch, I hadn’t made anything all day. So I was pumped up. I knew what I had to do. When you have to do something and you do it, it feels really good.”
Funny enough, Stanley made the first putt he looked at on Thursday morning, a 6-footer for birdie on the 10th (his opening hole) to earn redemption for past difficulty on that rather benign test. But from that point, nothing of consequence dropped as he needed 29 putts to cover the first 14 holes.
Two-over with four holes left, dangling by a thread – the cut for the state would end up being 2-over – Stanley rose to the occasion.
“He’s your competitor,” BNL coach Mike Wright said. “That comes from within. You can’t teach or coach it, it has to come from the heart, from the gut.
“I can’t even understand what he was going through. It was a big-time putt from a big-time player. In a one-day, do-or-die situation, the mental focus is just off the charts. I’ve seen it for four years. He was excited to play, not scared or nervous. Some people would start melting because they know every shot is precious. The kid has ice in his veins.”
Stanley, who hit 16 greens in regulation, finished tied for third overall. Center Grove’s Alex Heck was the medalist with a 3-under 69, while Franklin’s Damon Dickey fired a 71.
“It’s one day, and if you play bad, it sucks,” said Stanley, who three-putted twice during the round. “You can’t force it because that’s when you get in your own way. So it feels good to put up a good number.
“I was just trying to hit as many good shots as I could. That gave me confidence. I’m comfortable with pressure on me. So this feels really good, but the overall goal is winning (the state medalist title). It feels good to get a chance at that. I really feel like I can get that done.”
The rest of the Stars had nearly identical scores. Cole Sanders, Jeven Adams and Colton Spires all carded 86s while Cameron Jeskewich added an 87.
“We are who we are,” Wright said. “That was about where those guys are. The teams that beat us were the ones that beat us all year. So that’s where we probably should have fell. And finishing sixth in this field doesn’t get you anywhere, but there’s a respect factor there.”
No.4 Center Grove won its fifth straight regional crown, carding a sizzling 291. No.8 Floyd Central was second with 301, while No.10 Columbus North was third with 303.
The other individuals who advanced included Corydon’s Joey Wiseman (72), Bloomington South’s Drew Todd (73) and Bloomington North’s Evan Todd (74).