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Hirai puts big Tiger in Leopards' title tank

October 25, 2002|by BOB PARASILITI

bobp@herald-mail.com

It might not be too much of a stretch to say Smithsburg's Seiji Hirai is the closest thing Washington County has to that Woods guy.

Hold a golf event and both seem to be lurking somewhere near the top of the leaderboard when they are in the field and most every competitor is looking to see how they are doing.

Thursday was no different. The Leopard came out like a lion - just like Tiger has - to bear out an eagle on the opening hole of the Monocacy Valley Athletic League golf tournament at Black Rock Golf Course. It started Hirai on his way to a low medal with a 3-under- par round of 69 as the cornerstone of Smithsburg's first-ever league title.

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Smithsburg posted a team score of 317, outlasting second-place Williamsport by 13 shots. in the 10-team field. And even though Hirai opened the a spectacular start - chipping in for the eagle on the par-5 485-yard first hole - it was steady play that gave him the two-shot victory over Francis Scott Key's Ray Sheedy, only matched by the Leopards' torrid start for the team title.

"I started out with the eagle and I got pumped up from it," Hirai said. "It gave me a good start, but it wasn't the key to my round. I had a lot of birdie putts that lipped out, but I made big putts to save par on 8 and 11."

Clarke Gamble, Smithsburg's No. 3 player, supported Hirai's round with a 79 while Steve Young added an 82 and Brandon Shaeffer carded 87. Hirai and Gamble finished in the top six of the tournament and were named to the All-MVAL team.

"That was a nice start (by Hirai)," Smithsburg coach Dan Neff said. "The better players play that first hole like a par-4. Sometimes, if you don't get an eagle there, you walk away feeling like you are a stroke behind. But our kids really seem to step it up in the big tournaments. Our No. 3 man made it to the All-MVAL team ... he worked so hard in the summer."

Hirai may have set the tone for the Leopards on that first hole. Despite driving the ball to the right, the senior pitched to within 15 yards in front of the green. He followed it with the chip that rolled into the cup.

"I knew I could reach the green in two," Hirai said. "Even with the drive, I knew I could make a birdie on the hole, but not an eagle. After I hit (the chip), I thought it was a good shot, but I didn't think it would be an eagle."

After the eagle landed, Hirai went on to card birdies on Nos. 3 and 4 to move to 4-under early in the round. He shot 1-over over the last 14 holes.

Meanwhile, the Leopards were at 1-under as a team through seven holes.

"It's a great feeling the watch the players come in behind Seiji," Neff said. "He shoots well, but he's always worried about how the rest of the team is doing. We have never won the MVAL title. We talked about it. It might only be the MVAL, but its the kind of thing that keeps your program growing."

FSK finished third in the team chase at 332 while Catoctin (334) and Walkersville (341) rounded out the top five. North Hagerstown's Mike Wade finished third with a 76 and Williamsport's Logan Hintz fired a 78 to lead the Wildcats' charge, just ahead of Gamble. Smithsburg's Andrea Grier was the top female finisher with an 88.

Williamsport, which defeated Smithsburg twice this season, took second on the strength of consistency. Will Roney backed Hintz with an 82 while Luke Hintz and Brad Hartle each scored 85.

"We were steady," Williamsport coach Rod Steiner. "That's the way we've been all year. We've been behind Smithsburg. They get a 69 and we get a 78 ... we start out 10 strokes behind right away, but we're tickled to death. We wanted to be at 320, but with the conditions..."

The next step in the analogy of Hirai vs. Woods comes next week when Smithsburg heads to the state championships at Clustered Spires in Frederick, Md.

"I said to Seiji the other day, 'This is the third leg of the local majors,'" Neff said. "Now he's won the county, league and region titles. Next is states."

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