ALTON — Last season the Marquette Catholic Explorers and Alton Redbirds battled at Lockhaven Country Club.
With the course's closing the two programs needed to find a new venue for their city rivalry match. Enter Rock Spring Golf Course.
The Explorers and Redbirds met at The Rock on Wednesday and the change didn't alter the outcome. Marquette carded a 151 to top the Birds (172) just like last season at Lockhaven.
“It was kind of like a little throwback thing,” Explorers' head coach and former golfer Pat Moore said. “This is where Marquette and Alton used to go down was right here at The Rock. We were looking for a course because we always had a neutral course at Lockhaven and when it closed we said, 'Man, let's bring it out to Rock.'”
The old-style course that used to be the country club for Alton before the construction of Lockhaven is a challenging place. Narrow, with lots of hills, woods and small greens, accuracy is the name of the game at The Rock. Accuracy is also the name of the game for the Explorers, especially Wednesday's medalist Michael Holtz.
Holtz fired a 36 on the soppy grounds at The Rock after a couple days of rain. Neither the Redbirds nor Explorers are very familiar with Rock Spring, so Wednesday was a learning experience, but Holtz was up to the challenge.
“I tried to hit as many fairways and greens as I could,” Holtz said. “The greens are really small out there, so if you hit the greens you definitely have a putt inside 20 feet for birdie.
“I don't miss a whole lot of fairways and if you hit fairways out here you can definitely go a lot lower because there are a lot of trees left and right. If you hit 240 or 250 every time into the fairway you'll have an 8-iron in at most and then wedges down and you can birdie anytime with those clubs.”
But it was more than just Holtz turning in a solid day for Marquette on Wednesday. Freshman Kolten Bauer (37), Nick Messinger (38) and Duncan McLain (40) joined Holtz in the scoring for the Explorers. Freshman Jack Patterson also fired a 40 at The Rock.
It's been that consistency that's benefitted the Explorers so far in '15. They are 6-0 on the season so far and have won the Hickory Stick Invite and the Madison County Tournament, while also finishing two strokes off the lead at the All-Catholic Tournament.
Moore said consistency and depth has driven Marquette all season.
“Steady, a lot of consistency from these guys, one through six,” Moore said. “There is a lot of consistency and that's what really gets you going, especially when you get closer to postseason. The middle of September is when you really start getting it going and now is the time we really start getting going in postseason and hopefully we get a long run going.”
Alton head coach Zach Deeder has a lot of inexperience on his squad and he knew the talented Explorers would be a huge obstacle. He thought his guys shot well, but it wasn't enough.
“We knew coming in it was going to be tough and we shot OK for us, but they played great,” Deeder said. “They averaged under 40 for the scores they took and we averaged over 40. Out here you need course knowledge to get around this place and a few of our guys who had big scores were just kind of hitting it and going to get it and you've got to plan more at The Rock.
“The Rock beat us tonight along with Marquette.”
Max Hunter paced AHS with a 40. Hunter was joined in the scoring by Ryan Boyd (41), Matt Moore (44) and Austin Erthal (47).
The Redbirds are still searching for their elusive first win in 2015, but Deeder has watched steady improvement each day out and that's all he can ask moving toward the postseason.
“It's getting better every tournament,” Deeder said. “We had a rough start and kind of a false start with our tournament getting canceled, so we've been playing catchup, but we're getting lower every match. That's all I can really ask for is that we improve every time and hopefully it stays that way up to postseason when it really starts to matter.”
Deeder likes having a difficult schedule facing his kids to get them ready and that doesn't help with the record.
“We have a tough schedule,” he said. “Every team we go play it seems like they have one guy that is on fire. We have to get our timing together and get four scores together at one time. It always seems like I have three scores.”
The rivalry match between the Redbirds and Explorers is one that's circled on the calendar every year by the players and coaches. Holtz said it was fun and he and his teammates will enjoy the city bragging rights.
“It was fun to play with kids out of our area and we knew some of the guys we were playing with,” Holtz said. “It was competitive and fun at the same time, like playing with our own guys. It's always fun to be the crosstown rivals and have a little bragging rights against them. They could beat us anytime, but we just played better today and were a little more accurate out there.”