WESSON – With Sunday's final-round 309 team score, the Lions of East Mississippi Community College carded a second-place finish at this weekend's NJCAA Region 23 Men's Golf Championship held at Wolf Hollow.
Having entered Sunday's final-round action just four strokes out of the lead, head coach Dale Peay's EMCC Lions improved six strokes from Saturday's opening-round 315 to finish 13 shots behind regional team champion Mississippi Gulf Coast. With an 11-shot improvement from Saturday, the MGCCC Bulldogs fired a second-round 300 to claim their seventh consecutive NJCAA Region 23 team championship.
East Mississippi's second-place team finish marks the program's highest regional placing since a runner-up team showing at the 2009 NJCAA Region 23 Championship. With their seventh straight regional team title, the MGCCC Bulldogs earned a team berth in the NJCAA Division II Men's Golf National Championship to be held May 20-23 at Swan Lake Resort in Plymouth, Ind.
Host Copiah-Lincoln made a 16-shot improvement from Saturday to finish in third place with a 626 (321-305) team score, followed by Northwest Mississippi (313-314—627) and Jones County (312-320—632).
Gulf Coast's Danny De Los Santos (77-72—149), last week's MACJC State Champion, edged teammate Jake Pritchard (77-74—151) by two strokes to claim regional individual medalist honors. Jordan Cole of Hinds (73-80—153) placed third.
Individually for EMCC, freshmen Chase Chitwood (76-79—155) and Steven Eilders (79-76—155) paced the Lions by finishing in a seven-way tie for fourth place. As a result, Chitwood and Eilders, along with three other golfers, participated in a five-player playoff to determine the final national qualifier spot. Eilders was knocked out of contention on the fourth playoff hole, while Chitwood fell victim to a 50-foot eagle putt by Jones County's Patrick Dickson on the 10th playoff hole to decide the final Region 23 individual entry for the national tournament.
Chitwood, a Jessieville, Ark., native who also lost in a playoff during last week's runner-up finish at the MACJC State Golf Championship, stands as the first alternate for the upcoming NJCAA Championship. Eilders, of Ridgeland, follows as the second alternate for nationals.
Though not involved in the individual playoff after tying for 14th place (79-78—157), EMCC freshmen Hunter Harmon, a former standout at Calhoun Academy, did manage to qualify for the NJCAA Division II Men's Golf National Championship by virtue of his stroke average numbers during the MACJC's regular-season tournament action. Harmon, an MACJC All-State Second Team selection for the Lions, becomes the fifth EMCC golfer under Peay's guidance to earn a national tournament berth over the past six years.
Joining Gulf Coast's quintet of De Los Santos, Pritchard, Hayes Weathersby, Fant Carpenter and Adam Ham at nationals, along with individual qualifiers Harmon, Dickson and Cole, will be Ryan Desormeaux of Copiah-Lincoln and East Central's Sawyer Williams.