The questions were bound to come after Kapaun senior Sam Stevens shot an 80 and finished third at the Crusaders’ Class 5A regional on May 19.
But the questions were more of the same thought repeated again and again — what happened to Stevens at regionals?
“He just had a bad day,” Kapaun coach Corey Novascone said.
Stevens doesn’t have many bad days, which is why he’s the state’s best golfer and has signed with Oklahoma State.
And it’s why it was not a surprise to see him recover beautifully on Tuesday at the Wichita Country Club, shooting a one-over par 72 to win his third straight 5A title. He edged Heights’ Caleb Haight, who shot a 73 to finish second.
Stevens also helped lead Kapaun to its third straight 5A team title. The Crusaders shot a 300, 12 shots better than second-place Maize South.
“It’s a bonus to win the individual,” Stevens said. “Winning as a team is so much sweeter. It played hard out there today. Scores were not low. It’s just a grind for everybody.
“It’s a great way to go out. I’m just excited we got the win, I got the win.”
Carroll shot a 314 and finished third, but it took a tiebreaker. The Eagles edged St. Thomas Aquinas with their fifth score, Levi Iseman’s 83. Matt Sander and Max Iseman went low for Carroll with a pair of 77s.
Kapaun, Maize South and Carroll were the top three teams in the same regional, too, but Maize South won the regional title while Kapaun was second.
Maize South coach Steven Martling refused to express any disappointment in being runner-up.
“Let’s put it this way: we were third last year, we’re second this year. We’re looking forward to next year,” he said with a smile.
Finishing 23 shots behind Maize South at regionals was irksome for Kapaun.
“We struggled last week,” Stevens said. “From top to bottom, everyone had a rough day. It wasn’t that we really lost a lot of confidence from that. Everyone’s going to have a bad day. We just all happened to have a bad day on the same day.
“We’re all happy it happened last week and not today. We really got our butts handed to us, and we did not enjoy the feeling.”
And with the new questions for Stevens and the Crusaders, the intensity of an already high-pressure situation mounted.
Kapaun didn’t start off well Tuesday, either, at its home course.
“We got off to a pretty tight start,” Novascone said. “The guys needed to loosen up there.”
They did, and Kapaun had two others finish in the top seven — Jared Burns shot a 75 and finished sixth after a playoff, while Matthew Gilbaugh shot a 76 and was seventh after a playoff.
Stevens went into No. 18 thinking of how he could go low to help the team score in what he figured was a tight race. His third-straight individual title? Well, he figured he’d be happy if he was top five.
“I didn’t hit the ball particularly well,” Stevens said. “Typically, I strike it pretty well.”
After he hit into the fairway bunker off the tee on 18, he knew par was going to be his best bet.
“I had a very difficult chip,” he said. “I was trying to give myself a look at par. I was able to get the club under the ball, and it came out perfectly. It ended up six inches from the hole. It was a nice way to end.”
Hole No. 17 will be emblazoned on the memory of Haight, a senior, who was so close to forcing a playoff with Stevens, or winning his first title.
“On (17), I three-putted from five foot,” Haight said, shaking his head. “If I had two-putted, I’d be in a playoff with Sam.
“ I just couldn’t make a putt. That’s where I struggled today. Putting is usually my area. It was frustrating.”
Maize South freshman Wells Padgett shot a 74, finishing fourth after a playoff.
“He’s going to be a great player,” Maize South coach Steven Martling said. “ He’s really showing some potential, and he keeps his composure really well.”
Padgett faltered a bit on the front nine, shooting a 39.
But on the back nine Padgett shot a 35. Four of his five teammates also played better on the last nine holes, all shooting under 40.
“Our front nine was a struggle, but all year long when I think we’re really in trouble, they come back and play a really good back nine,” Martling said. “They came back well. I was afraid we were going to shoot 325, and we shot 312.”
1. Kapaun, 300 (Sam Stevens, Jared Burns, Matthew Gilbaugh, Nick Auer); 2. Maize South 312 (Wells Padgett, Collin Kasitz, Hayden Padgett, Nick Wagner, Cole Christian); 3. Carroll 314 (Matt Sander, Max Iseman, Bobby Armstrong, Carter Towey); 4. St. Thomas Aquinas, 314; 5. Topeka Seaman, 315; 6. Hays, 324; 7. BV Southwest, 329; 8. St. James, 330; 9. Andover, 349; 10. Shawnee Heights, 353; 11. Valley Center, 356; 12. Salina Central, 361.
1. Sam Stevens, Kapaun, 72; 2. Caleb Haight, Wichita Heights, 73; 3. Jack Reilly, St. James, 74; 4. Wells Padgett, Maize South, 74; 5. Luke Henes, Aquinas, 75; 6. Jared Burns, Kapaun, 75; 7. Matthew Gilbaugh, Kapaun, 76; 8. Luke Russell, Lansing; 76; 9. Mitchell Lummis, Shawnee Heights, 76; 10. Ruger Hummel, Topeka Seaman, 76; 11. (tie) Nick Auer, Kapaun; Zach Pitcher, Wichita Heights; Matt Sander, Carroll; Max Iseman, Carroll; Troy Hilderhof, Aquinas, 77; 16. (tie) Ben Hadden, Mill Valley; Seth Wingerter, BV Southwest; Bobby Armstrong, Carroll, 78; (tie) Mason Wages, Topeka Seaman; Alex Graf, Kapaun; Jake Weller, Topeka Seaman; James Pyle, Aquinas; Collin Kasitz, Maize South; Jaen Oehlert, Mill Valley; Hayden Padgett, Maize South, 79.