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Darton golf close to 13th straight nationals berth

Cavs are one shot behind leader in district championship

Darton freshman Jake O’Bryan follows through after his drive on No. 18 during Monday’s second round of the District IV championship. O’Bryan played his final eight holes 3-under par to shoot a second-round 71. (Staff Photo: John Millikan)

Darton freshman Jake O’Bryan follows through after his drive on No. 18 during Monday’s second round of the District IV championship. O’Bryan played his final eight holes 3-under par to shoot a second-round 71. (Staff Photo: John Millikan)

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Darton’s Madison Turner chips on to No. 17 green during Monday’s District IV championship. (Staff Photo: John Millikan)

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Darton’s Tae Kim hits an approach shot on No. 17 Monday at Stonebridge Golf and Country Club. (Staff Photo: John Millikan)

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Darton golfer Jake O’Bryan hits a fairway shot as Cavs assistant coach Gary Hilton looks on. (Staff Photo: John Millikan)

ALBANY — The Darton State College golf team overcame a shaky start to the NJCAA District IV championship at Stonebridge Golf and Country Club on Monday and moved into position to clinch a berth in the national tournament.

Darton fired a 300 in Monday’s opening round but bounced back with a 2-over 290 in the second 18 holes, and the Cavs are just a shot behind leader Wallace State (Ala.) Community College heading into today’s final round.

The Cavs, who need a Top 6 finish to qualify for nationals for the 13th straight year, have a 15-shot lead on seventh-place Meridian (Miss.) Community College — but nationally-ranked No. 11 Darton has its eyes set on a come-from-behind district title.

“It would do a lot for our confidence to win three tournaments in a row,” said Darton freshman Jake O’Bryan, whose team is coming off tournament victories at the Ron Marshall Spring Fling in late March and at the Region XVII championship earlier this month. “A win would definitely build our confidence going into nationals.”

It took about 10 hours for the 11 teams to complete both rounds — a day of golf O’Bryan compared to a marathon.

But the Cavs got stronger as the day stretched on, especially O’Bryan, who made his afternoon turn at 1-over par but birded three of his final eight holes to finish with a second-round 71. O’Bryan’s round matched Madison Turner’s 1-under 71 in the second round as the low score of the day for the Cavs.

O’Bryan said the fatigue began to set in with about nine holes to play, but the Athens native found a way to power through.

“You just keep going,” he said. “The first 27 aren’t too bad, but you hit the last nine holes and you just have to try to finish.”

Turner (74-71) leads the Cavs individually heading into the final round and would have scored even lower if not for a double-bogey on his 36th hole of the day. Turner is followed by Darton golfers O’Bryan (76-71), Seth Sanders (75-72), Taylor Martin (75-76) and Tae Kim (77-76).

“If we play solid (today), we are in,” Darton coach Dale Dover said. “We will make it if we play solid. Now you can go out there and throw up, and we are capable of doing that, too.”

Martin and Kim, both sophomores, drew the ire of Dover after the second round.

“Taylor birded the last hole to shoot a 76, but we need to get some help out of Taylor and Tae,” Dover said. “They didn’t help us at all (Monday). They are supposed to be better than that. Tae has one of the best scoring averages in the country, and he goes out there and does what he did. We need some people who we can depend on.”

Team scores behind Wallace State and Darton State are Central Alabama Community College 591, Eastern Florida State 597, Cape Fear Community College 597, ABAC 603, Meridian 605, Faulkner State (Ala.) Community College 608, USC Lancaster 615, Spartanburg Methodist (S.C.) College 624 and Wake Technical (N.C.) Community College 653.