JORDAN, Minn. - Wednesday proved to be another good day for the Red Wing boys' golf team at the Class AA boys state golf meet at Ridges at Sand Creek, as a shaky start made way for a strong finish and a third-place showing.
Red Wing concluded the tournament with a team score of 619, three shots ahead of fourth-place Cloquet-Esko. Holy Family Catholic won the tournament with a score of 600, while Detroit Lakes came in second with 603.
"Our hope coming in was to place top three; we get some hardware for that so that's what we were shooting for," Red Wing head boys' golf coach Nate Gale said. "Today was probably our best round as a team, maybe not score-wise, but circumstances and pressure, I thought they played awesome."
At the top of dealing with pressure and circumstance was Red Wing's No. 1 golfer and defending state champion, Cecil Belisle.
Belisle entered Wednesday tied for second place, but he didn't get the start he was looking for on Day 2 after his tee shot on the first hole found water.
"I started off really bad, hit it right in the water on No. 1, but made a pretty good putt for bogey to get momentum back," Belisle said. "I didn't hit the driver very good. I hit some draws with it today, and I don't hit very many draws with that club - it's pretty dang straight every single time."
While the front nine didn't go the way Belisle wanted, or nearly any of the Wingers for that matter - Michael Stoffel was the only golfer to have a better front than back nine - the team was able to turn it around for a strong finish to cap the tournament off.
Belisle and Luke Knudsen both shot sub-par scores on the difficult back nine to pull Red Wing back into the fray, and giving it the chance to earn some hardware to bring home.
"You need to know what to hit on the back-nine holes, there is some strategy involved," Gale said. "You have to grab the right iron and the right fairway wood off the tee to give yourself a chance. There's streams cutting across just about every fairway and you have to hit the right spot and manage your game well."
Belisle finished the day at 4-under-par with a 68 to put his two-day score at 139, good enough for third place. Nate Deziel of East Grand Forks was the medalist with 137 and Derek Hitchner of The Blake School came in second with 138.
Red Wing's other top scorers for the two-day tournament were Luke Knudsen with 155, Michael Stoffel (159) and Mac DeSutter (167).
For Belisle, it was tough to put into words the disappointment on coming up short on a repeat chance as state champion, but to see the team make the trip with him this year and perform well was a experience he didn't take for granted.
"I wanted to make history for Red Wing, being the only person to win it twice and back-to-back, but I'm happy with how the team did," Belisle said. "To make it back for the first time in 10 years and take third place, that's pretty awesome."
In its first day back at the state tournament after a decade-long wait, Red Wing made good of its opportunity with a team score of 317, putting it in third place overall through the first day.
Belisle, the reigning state champion, paced the Wingers with a 1-under-par 71, good enough for a second-place tie with Lake City's Thomas Huettl and Derek Hitchner of Blake School. Nate Deziel of East Grand Forks led the field through 18 holes with 69.
Ahead of Red Wing in team scores were first-place Detroit Lakes with 305 and Holy Family Catholic with 308. Behind the Wingers, seventh-place Totino-Grace sat only four shots behind, making the gap from third to seventh narrow.
Belisle was Red Wing's lone golfer with a sub-80 score as Luke Knudsen shot 81, Michael Stoffel finished with 82 and Mac DeSutter scored 83.