OCALA — The Northside Christian girls defeated defending Class A state champion American Heritage (Plantation) three times in 18-hole matches during the regular season.
If the Mustangs can manage a fourth victory, they'll earn the school's second state championship.
Northside finished the opening round of the Class A state finals Tuesday at Golden Hills in Ocala with a team score of 298, two strokes behind the leader, American Heritage. A host of schools are lined up behind — Community School (312), Lake Highland Prep (320), St. Andrew's (321) and Circle Christian (324) — but barring an upset, today's final round sets up as a showdown between Northside and American Heritage.
"We just have to play as hard as we can (today), and we'll see where we are at the end of the day," Northside's A.J. Newell said.
Newell continued her stellar prep career by firing 2-under 70 to keep the Mustangs in the hunt. She currently sits one stroke behind American Heritage's Shelby Coyle for the individual state title.
"I think the 60s are definitely reachable," she said. "Anything over even par I wouldn't have been happy with just because there's so many holes you can birdie here. You make the birdies and keep the bogeys to a minimum and you're really going to play great out here."
Newell, who had scouts from Auburn and Tennessee following her every shot, birdied four holes and bogeyed two to finish under par.
Newell's younger sister Anna, an eighth-grader playing in her third state championship, came into the clubhouse at even-par 72.
"I was nervous at this tournament when I was in sixth grade but not anymore," she said.
Michelle Butler carded 3-over 75 and Danielle Grace shot 81 to give the Mustangs an excellent opportunity to capture a state championship.
In Class A boys action at Dunnellon's Juliette Falls, Northside Christian remains in contention. The Mustangs shot 302, putting them in fourth place.
North Palm Beach Benjamin is the leader at 288. Archbishop McCarthy (292) is second and Cardinal Newman (293) third.
Gus Myers, who in the past three weeks won the Bay Conference Championship, had Northside's low round at districts and tied for the team's low round at regionals, continued his exceptional play by firing even-par 72. Teammates Nick Quintessenza (74), Jeff Heinicka (77) and Anthony Quintessenza (79) posted rounds below 80.
Calvary Christian finished tied for 11th after shooting 314 as a team. Lee McCoy (73) came into the clubhouse 1 over for the Warriors' best round and was followed by Aaron Watson (75), Jake Kevorkian (83) and Ben Murray (83).
"We want to shoot 305 or better (today)," Calvary coach Mike Baskovich said. "If we would have been at 305 (Tuesday), we would have been a couple strokes out. We thought it was attainable. If we shoot 305, maybe that can get us back into the top six or seven or possibly even higher."