Trent Craig knew it was going to be close as the scores started to get posted in Monday's Huntley Class 3A boys golf sectional tournament at Blackstone Golf Club in Marengo.
Close for his Huntley teammates in their quest to make it downstate out of a tough 12-team field. And close for the junior if it came down to trying to qualify individually after shooting a 5-over-par 76 on the 6,541-yard course.
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"I always find myself right around the number," Craig said. "It will be close."
Craig wound up shedding tears of joy after snagging one of the final four qualifying spots out of a seven-player playoff. But the Red Raiders were one agonizing shot from making this weekend's state tourney at The Den at Fox Creek Golf Course in Bloomington as they shot 308 to finish fourth behind Deerfield (302), St. Viator (306) and Prospect (307).
Jacobs was sixth with a 312 as Jack Ramsett qualified with a 75 and senior Chris Boyle shot 76 and qualified on a second playoff hole. Cary-Grove senior Daniel DePrey also shot 75 to advance to state.
Craig made a surprising trip to state as a freshman but missed qualifying last year. He had to fight to get there this time after opening with a 40 on a windy day where the tourney start was postponed 90 minutes because of frost.
"I knew I had to shoot at least even or better on the front," Craig said after a birdie was part of going 1-under on his final 5 holes. "I just had a bad sectional last year. I was hoping I could redeem myself and I definitely did."
Ramsett said playing Blackstone six times helped him stay with a more conservative approach than usual. He credited his short game for his success and said he made all of his putts inside 8 feet.
And Ramsett said he was glad to avoid the stress of a playoff as he watched Boyle play two extra holes.
"He's one of my best friends and I really wanted him to come downstate with me," Ramsett said. "He's a competitor and I'm glad he got it done."
Craig and Mundelein's Bret Cigelnik both parred the first playoff hole to snag two qualifying spots. Huntley sophomore Jake Grabner was eliminated from the playoff so that left Boyle, Barrington's Joey Batliner and Tom Calbi and Buffalo Grove's Brandon Matchen going to No. 18 to battle for the final two qualifying spots.
A big drive and solid approach left Boyle with a two-putt for par to advance along with Batliner in near darkness.
"I had the same exact putt for birdie in regulation and I drained it," Boyle said after just missing a birdie in the playoff. "It was pretty nerve-racking ... but it just fell into place and I didn't worry about the other players."
Huntley improved on eighth-place sectional finishes the last two years with the 76s from Craig and Grabner and 78s from seniors Brad Spoeth and Gage Jereb. Senior Tyler Ross shot 81 and senior Riley Wicks shot 82.
"That 71 from (Prospect's) Josh Johnson really put a dagger in us, but that's great playing," Craig said.
"I couldn't be more proud of that group of kids," said Huntley coach Jim Rolando of his senior-heavy crew that included Glenn Miller, who was part of his regional lineup. "That's what you expect when you get to this sectional and it's tough. We knew it was going to be neck and neck, but we played well.
"(Assistant coach Marty) Manning and I talked all year and he always said, 'We are who we are.' We are a 76-77-78 group of kids and a 308 team on a really good course.
"They were part of buying into doing something with turning Huntley golf around. To finish fourth is awesome."
Jacobs also counted a 79 from Gabe Askam and an 82 from Joe Addante.