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Warriors, Bruins play to draw

“Every shot counts” is an obvious golf cliché, but clichés are usually true for the most part.

Led unexpectedly by a freshman playing his first high school match, Nansemond River opened its season Tuesday with a 312-312 tie against Western Branch at Nansemond River Golf Club.

Bryce Strong’s 76 led the way for the Warriors even though he was playing as the No. 6 golfer, or the last spot on the squad, for NR. He nearly wasn’t in the match at all.

NR held intra-squad qualifying for its opening match Monday. Strong and a teammate each shot 84 to tie for sixth. Strong won a sudden-death playoff hole to get his spot.

Strong had a number of outstanding holes, including three birdies while shooting even-par 36 on the front nine. It was how the rookie responded to adversity on a tough course and a hot afternoon that was most impressive to his coach, Craig Stephenson.

“He made double-bogey on No. 8 and instead of getting down, he came right back to birdie No. 9 to go to even-par,” Stephenson said.

Coming down the stretch, Strong hit his tee shot on the par-3 No. 16 into the water hazard, but fought back to save bogey on a long putt.

“He composed himself very well for his first high school match. For him to do what he did today was beyond being a freshman, that’s for sure,” Stephenson said.

Western Branch’s No. 1 player, Taylor Dichiara won medalist honors by a wide margin, shooting a three-under par 69. Dichiara and his playing partner Nick Iuliano rolled through the middle of the back nine.

Dichiara, Iuliano and NR’s top pairing, Travis Johnson and Shanice Mason, all birdied with fours on No. 13. While Johnson and Mason made pars on No. 14, a difficult par four, both Bruin golfers made birdies by draining putts ranging around 20 feet.

Those shots, or literally any shot all day, changed the outcome completely.

For NR, the difference could well have been when Mason chipped in for a birdie from behind the No. 15 green.

With the final foursome on the final green, all of the players and coaches watched and reacted to each putt. Strong narrowly missed a 14-foot putt for birdie.

“We didn’t know exactly what each shot meant, but we knew it was really close,” Stephenson said.

The 312 team score is the best in Stephenson’s three seasons with the Warriors. Johnson and Mason shot 78s. Griffin Genier, also in his rookie match for NR, shot 80.

The tie is the second draw in three seasons for NR. For now, the match goes down as a tie in the Southeastern District standings. Should the draw need to be broken for regional tournament implications at the end of the regular season, basically the top two spots in the district, the Warriors and Bruins will meet for another full, 18-hole match.