HELEN - Eastside's Taylor Smith left little doubt about who was the best golfer in the Region 8-AAAA tournament Monday at Innsbruck Resort and Golf Club.
The senior fired a 3-under 69 to earn the medalist honor and lift the Eagles to a second-place finish in Region 8-AAAA, earning a trip to the Class AAAA state tournament May 5 at Bartram Trail Golf Club in Evans.
In the girls tournament, Rockdale missed a state tournament berth by nine strokes, as the Lady Bulldogs finished third behind Winder-Barrow and Dacula.
In fact, Smith's superb round on the tough and hilly Innsbruck course almost pulled out a region championship for the Eagles. Habersham Central at 333 edged Eastside at 334 by a single stroke.
Smith was so dominant that he finished 11 strokes in front of his nearest competitors for the boys medalist honor.
"It was all Taylor Smith. You know he shot 69, I mean if he doesn't play like that, we don't make it," Eastside boys coach Jay Cawthon said. "He's just been solid all year. He told me that he just got in a groove. I talked to him at the turn and he usually tells me where he is. He said, 'Coach, don't worry about it.' When he said that, I knew he was shooting pretty good."
Eastside, Habersham Central, Heritage and Dacula were all locked in a tight battle heading into the final nine holes.
"For my young guys, it was definitely a learning experience for them. But they gutted it out on the back side. We were down a lot going into the back nine, I knew that," Cawthon said. "My young guys stepped up on the back side and just grinded, even though we didn't play very well at all. I heard through the grapevine that (region) would come down to those four teams. Any of the four obviously could have won it. We just got lucky."
The tournament wasn't decided until the final foursome's scores were posted.
"It's very rewarding going to state. It's going to my first experience, but I'm especially happy for Taylor," Cawthon said. "He hasn't been there since he was a freshman. We've talked all year about getting back to state for him since this is his last year (at Eastside). It will be a great learning experience for my younger players since I have three freshmen and two sophomores."
JT Baker (86), Tate Miller (87) and Taylor Lazenby (92) rounded out the scoring for Eastside.
Dacula finished third at 340, six strokes behind Eastside. Heritage was the only other team in contention in fourth at 345. Brett Whitmire had the Patriots' lowest round at 84 followed by Cameron Smith (85), Harrison Elliott (86) and Robby Kalland (90).
Salem had the highest finish among the other local squads, placing seventh at 374. Rockdale was eighth at 376 and Alcovy was 12th at 389.
Kyle Reagan had the Seminoles' lowest round at 88, Josh Lambo recorded the Bulldogs' best round at 86 and Matt Moore produced the Tigers' top score at 87.
In the girls tournament, Rockdale's Kayla Kelly (90) and Alex Madsen (117) combined to give the Lady Bulldogs a 207, but it wasn't enough as Winder-Barrow won the region title at 171 followed by runner-up Dacula at 199.
"A couple shots here and there would have made a difference for us," Rockdale girls coach Frank Cassino said. "I'm a little disappointed because I thought we had a really good shot at going to state."
Individually, Rockdale's Kelly finished second overall behind Winder-Barrow's Catherine Leach, who shot a 79. Salem's Dari Goldman finished fourth overall with a 93.
Salem finished sixth in the team scores at 215, Eastside was eighth at 219 and Alcovy was ninth at 220.
Rebecca Wilson had the Lady Tigers' low round with at 101, while Ilyssa Johnson turned in the Lady Eagles' best score at 107.
Jeff Gillespie can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.