Dons haul in State title with Baur back

Santa Barbara High Golf

The Santa Barbara High golf team cradles its CIF State Championship trophy. (Presidio Sports Photo)

Two weeks ago,  struggling Santa Barbara senior John Baur had basically played himself out of the Dons’ lineup after a season full of disappointing results.  The reality was something Baur wasn’t going to take, being one of four seniors on the Dons golf team who desperately wanted to bring Santa Barbara High its first State Championship in school history.

“When we got into the playoffs, coach put me out. He said, ‘dude, you’re not playing good, you’re done. For now, you’re done,'” Baur recalled, agreeing that his game had taken a step back this season. “So I started practicing, like a lot, and I called coach.

“I said, ‘Coach, I want a chance to play again. You’re not winning State without me.’ I said that word-for-word.”

Nobody can argue with him now, as Baur and the Dons claimed their first State Championship by setting a course record at Santa Maria Country Club on Tuesday. Baur’s resurgence continued at the CGA/CIF State Championship, as the freshly committed golfer carded a 73 to contribute to the Dons’ combined round of two-under 358.

“I’m just glad that I could come around at the right time,” said Baur, whose team-leading round of two-under par at last week’s SCGA Championships was a big reason the Dons qualified for Tuesday’s tournament.

“He’s our MVP of the week,” credited his head coach James Bedard, more loving than tough though it seems.

While Baur’s comeback was the feel-good story, it was Jack Perry and Shane Lebow that spear-headed Tuesday’s record-setting round, giving Santa Barbara two of the three lowest individual scores of the day.

Servite’s Patrick Cantlay was the only other individual able to equal the pair’s matching four-under 68. The UCLA-bound senior, a two-time CIF-ss champion, ended up with the individual State title after beating out Perry and Lebow in a playoff.

“They played incredible,” Cantlay said of Santa Barbara’s showing. “Their ones and twos really stepped up.”

CIF State Golf Championships

Shane Lebow tees off during the playoff for the individual title.

Seeing Cantlay, Perry and Lebow in a playoff makes sense, as the three will all be playing on the NCAA Division-I level next year. Lebow(Stanford) and Cantlay will see a lot of each other in the Pac 10 while Perry heads to the Big Ten to play for Northwestern.

Perry’s round was strengthened by two straight birdies on 17 and 18 to catch Lebow. Perry’s approach shot on the 18th hole came to rest four feet from the hole, nearly dropping as it bit and rolled backwards by the pin. After sinking the birdie putt, Lebow was the first on the green to congratulate his teammate.

Lebow came through with his first competitive bogey-free round in the perfect moment. He birdied holes 12, 13, and 15 to reach four-under before posting pars on his last three holes.

“Without a doubt it’s his best round of the year,” Bedard said, later adding that it was also the whole team’s best performance.

Ray Gerow carded an even-par 72 and Sean Searls a 77 to fill out Santa Barbara’s team score. Searls saved the Dons at least one stroke, probably two, by holing an 80-yard pitch on the eleventh hole for the day’s best shot.

“This is just a special group of golfers,” Bedard said. “We had seven guys this year who performed on this team. They made each other better and they made each other work on their game.”

It was the second time in three years the Dons competed for the State title. In 2008, the Dons won the SCGA Championship and held a late lead in Santa Maria before blustery afternoon winds helped push the Dons’ team score past Sunny Hills.

Because of their third place finish at the SCGA, the Dons teed off first this time and were finished two hours before second-place Servite, making for a nervous wait in the clubhouse.

All the Dons could do was wait. The SCGA was continually updating live scores on its website, so the Dons players and fans were busy monitoring the results.

By noon, it was clear that Servite was the Dons’ closest challenger. At one point Servite reached one under on the back nine but news quickly spread that their team score had been updated to five-over with only a few holes to play.

“It was nervewracking,” Bedard said “It’s tough not having control about what’s going on out there.”

But by 1:30, it was clear the Dons had clinched the title.

“I’ve had a tough time removing the smile from my face,” said Bedard. “It’s especially sweet because of what we’ve gone through the past couple of years.”

The Dons’ quest for a State title started three years ago, when Gerow and Perry transferred to Santa Barbara.  Baur, Lebow, Perry and Gerow formed a formidable high school nucleus.

After getting as close as runner-up in ’08, the Dons came of age on Tuesday.

“Shane and I walked into kindergarten together and we walked out of graduation together,”  And now we’re about to walk out state champs our senior year. Dude, I don’t have words to explain that. I’ll remember this for the rest of my life.”

The Dons not involved in the playoff took turns gleefully carrying the championship trophy in the gallery. Cantlay managed to fight off both Dons, but that did little to dampen the spirits of the team champions, even Perry and Lebow.

“I would have rather had the team title,” Cantlay said moments after his victory.

Perry and Lebow can relate to that, appreciating the opportunity to celebrate with their teammates. The Dons weren’t just celebrating a title won, but also the history that was made.

“It’s a special group that I hope will be remembered in Santa Barbara for a long time,” Bedard said.