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Leopards book return trip

September 25, 2002|by DAN KAUFFMAN

kauffman@herald-mail.com

Smithsburg seniors Seiji Hirai, Steve Young and Clarke Grumbine got what they wanted Tuesday afternoon - a second chance at the Maryland Golf Championships.

Led by Hirai's winning score of even-par 72, the Leopards scored 318 points and tied with Southern Garrett for the team title at the West Region Tournament at Black Rock Golf Course, earning Smithsburg the right to compete as a team at Univeristy of Maryland-College Park next month.

"I'm really happy for our seniors," Leopards coach Dan Neff said. "After finishing seventh in states last year, right away, they were like, 'We have to go back.' For them to hang together and work together as a group, it was incredible how hard they worked in the summer."

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Hirai, the two-time Washington County champion who won the state title in 2000, birdied three of the first four holes Tuesday and answered bogeys on 9, 10, 12 and 13 with birdies on 14 and 15 to add another trophy to his resume.

"I've been struggling during the end of the summer, and when school started, I knew my physical game was there ... but I couldn't deal with a bad shot," Hirai said. "I focus and concentrate harder now. I've been through too many rounds where one shot blew my whole round up, and I've grown mentally."

Young (80), Grumbine (80) and Riley Ledden (86) didn't have great days at Black Rock, but they did enough to punch Smithsburg's ticket to states.

"We talked a little bit about the maturing factor being the difference in winning this tournament," Neff said. "We've grown so much, and maturity would probably get us over the hump. That's exactly what happened. They didn't panic when the wheels started falling off, they kept battling and hung in there."

Catoctin's Jeff Hillis (77), North Hagerstown's Trevor Hullinger (80) and Mike Wade (80), and Williamsport's Will Roney (80) all qualified for the state tournament as individuals.

Walkersville finished third in the team competition with 322 points, followed by North hagerstown (333) and Williamsport (340). Boonsboro (351) finished tied with Beall for sixth, Middletown (355) was eighth, Brunswick (371) was ninth, South Hagerstown (426) was 12th and Clear Spring (429) was 13th.

Smithsburg sophomore Andrea Grier - the sister of former state champion Ashley Grier - qualified as an individual on the girls' side, shooting 97 for her first trip to states.

"She's gonna get some nice experience down there," Neff said. "I'm excited just as much for her as I am for our team. It's gonna be a building process next year losing three seniors, and with Andrea aboard, it's gonna help."

Allegany's Jessica Jewell won the regional girls title with an 86.

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