By Justin Sokeland
CARMEL – Bedford North Lawrence senior Ethan Stanley took a solid first step toward the ultimate prize, carding a 1-over 73 during the opening round of the IHSAA state finals at Prairie View.
Stanley rode a hot start to a tie for sixth place heading into Wednesday’s final round. He stands three shots off the pace, set by Carmel’s Nick Dentino and Peru’s Kash Bellar after they took the overnight lead with 2-under 70s.
Playing in his fourth straight state championship, Stanley carded three birdies, offset by one major mishap and an unfortunate break, and settled into perfect position to contend for individual medalist honors.
“I feel really good going into tomorrow,” Stanley said. “I put myself in good position. It’s not the number I wanted, but it is what it is. I’m satisfied.”
He should be. Playing under the intense pressure, Stanley opened with five straight pars, made the turn tied for the lead at 2-under, then shook off two unfortunate breaks with a final-hole birdie to maintain contact with the leaders.
Stanley claimed his first birdie on the par-3 6th hole, rifling a 7-iron from 180 yards to 6 feet. He added another birdie on the 9th, drilling a 20-footer after an 8-iron approach.
He stumbled with a bogey on the 11th, when his tee shot settled in a fairway divot and his second plunged in a green-side bunker. He double-bogeyed the 14th when his 5-iron second shot sailed longer than expected over the flagstick into trouble behind the green.
After a wayward drive led to bogey on 17, he bounced back with a wedge shot to 4 feet for birdie on the par-15th 18th.
“He played really well, really steady,” BNL coach Mike Wright said. “It was a pretty orchestrated round. He mentally stayed with it. He stayed patient, and I wondered if he would start getting greedy.
“He’s so intelligent to know it was a good round. He should be pleased with it.”
“I didn’t have that many bad swings, I just had the bad break with the ball in the divot, then hit one too good,” Stanley said. “I’ll always take pars. With those pars, I knew I would eventually get a putt to fall. That means I’m hitting good shots.”
Stanley is poised for history, looking for a title or the highest individual finish in program history. The top 10 in the state finals are automatic All-State selections. Another 10 are selected for that honor based on their season performance.
With only five players in front of him (Castle’s Adam Bratton, Noblesville’s Clay Merchant and Brebeuf’s Drew Wrightson all carded even-par 72s), Stanley will not adjust his approach.
“The strategy doesn’t change at all,” he said. “It’s still fairways and greens, just trying to give myself looks for birdie, trying to minimize my mistakes, keep the card as clean as possible and get the putter going, not being too aggressive but knowing when to be aggressive. I’ll try to hit as many good shots as I can and see what I end up.
“It’s the state finals. It doesn’t intimidate me. All I can do is play my own game and see if it’s good enough.”
“He’s always advised me not to tell him the situation,” Wright said. “He will know.”
In the team competition, top-ranked Carmel took the lead with a total of 299 while Center Grove settle for second at 303. Floyd Central was fourth with 311.
Stanley is set to tee off at 8:18 a.m. on the first tee.
IHSAA STATE FINALS