Northwestern's girls golf team pulled away from a pair of familiar challengers to win its third straight Western Sectional championship Friday at Chippendale G.C.
Northwestern posted a score of 343 in rainy conditions. Fellow Mid-Indiana Conference schools Western (364) and Peru (371) followed in second and third — just like the previous two years.
"The front nine was pretty competitive. At the turn, we were six strokes ahead of Peru and seven strokes ahead of Western, and then we just kind of turned it on," Northwestern coach Randy Lindgren said.
The top three teams advance to next Saturday's Battle Ground Regional.
Kokomo (381) finished fourth with Logansport (385), North Miami (402), Eastern (410), Maconaquah (415) and Taylor (420) rounding out the field. Tipton had an incomplete team.
Individually, Kokomo's Anne-Marie Balsbaugh was the medalist with a 4-over 76. She opened with a 43 on the back nine, then fired a school-record-tying 33 on the front nine to surge to medalist honors.
Northwestern teammates Ashton Martin and Olivia McClure tied for next low with 83s. Martin turned in nines of 39 and 44 and McClure had nines of 41 and 42.
Ava McClure was third-low for the Tigers with an 88 (47-41) and Alexis Hungate rounded out the Tigers' team score with an 89 (46-43). Also for the Tigers, Karlie Shaw shot a 97 (47-50).
"Ashton and Olivia shot very near their averages and so did Alexis," Hungate said. "Ava had a great day. This was her best day of the year — 88 is her best score of the year. She was fantastic."
Northwestern's streak of three straight sectionals matches the school record set in 1994-96. The Tigers have been consistent during their current streak. They posted winning scores of 344 in 2011 and also '12 and now 343 this year.
"I congratulate the girls for the entire year and summer of hard work. It pays off during sectional time," Lindgren said. "Now our goal next year is to put the fourth one together and have something better than the teams of '94 through '96. With four juniors and one senior, we'll have firepower coming back."
Olivia McClure is the team's lone senior.
Natalie Newlin, Minka Gill and Shelby Schave paced runner-up Western with 87s.
Along with the top three teams, the top three individuals from non-advancing teams move on to the regional. Kat senior Balsbaugh leads that group after taking first place with her sizzling finish.
"I was just in tears. I was just so excited for her," Kokomo coach Andy Carpenter said. "We've battled issues all season with her swing and everything. It just finally came together. We played the back nine first and she birdied hole 14, which is a par-five. From there on, she was just on fire."
Logansport's Haley Lopez (87) and Maconaquah's Courtney Turcheck (89) claimed the other advancing spots.
Turcheck is a freshman. Fellow Mac freshman Brandi Jones also shot an 89. They went to a sudden-death playoff to determine who would advance. Turcheck knocked in an 8-footer to win the spot.
Lindgren noted the regional will provide "a great test" for the advancing teams and individuals. Regionals now draw from six sectionals instead of four. The top three teams advance to state along with the top five individuals from non-advancing teams.
"You have Valparaiso who's ranked third in the state and then you have Lafayatte Jeff on their home course. With those two, unless we have a career day, we're probably fighting for No. 3," Lindgren said. "Plus, we have Lake Central and Chesterton coming down and they're fine teams also. I imagine it will be Northwestern, Lake Central and Chetserton fighting for that third spot."