VALRICO — Coming off a district tournament in which it shot 299 at the Vinoy Golf Club, the East Lake High boys team was certainly confident playing in Monday's Class 3A region tournament at Buckhorn Springs Golf Club. Plant was clearly the team to beat, but if a few putts fell, the Eagles thought they might be able to surpass the mighty Panthers.
While they shot a not-too-shabby 311 on an unfamiliar course, it turned out to be three shots behind champion Plant. The good news for the Eagles is that the top two teams in the region advance to the Class 3A state tournament at the Mission Inn in Howey-in-the-Hills on Nov. 6-7. East Lake was solidly in second, nine shots ahead of third-place Wharton.
This will be the first state tournament appearance for East Lake since 2014. That last time out didn't go so well, with the Eagles finishing 16th out of 16 teams. Senior Brit Pero is the only East Lake player with state experience. He qualified as an individual last year and finished tied for 45th.
"It's going to be a lot more fun as a team," Pero said. "We should be able to compete."
The low round Monday went to junior Nicholas Bridgewater, who shot 1-over 73. Pero came in close behind with 77. Both boys shot 69s in the district tournament.
"The greens were super fast," Bridgewater said. "I don't really like that but I was able to putt pretty well."
East Lake's scoring was rounded out by a 79 from senior Michael Beausang and an 82 from senior Andrew Fisher.
East Lake has been one of the top teams in Pinellas County throughout the season. The Eagles, however, did not end the regular season on a high note when they shot 334 at the Green Devil Invitational at Vinoy, but Pero did not play in that tournament.
They have certainly turned things around in their two postseason tournaments. Part of the reason is having a team that pushes each other not only in tournaments but also in practices.
"We're competitive with each other," Bridgewater said. "There may be some side bets when we play against each other. But it makes us all better."
Now comes the fun, and hard, part. Players will get a practice round on the Mission Inn course the Monday prior to the tournament. A state championship seems to be a bit of a long shot for the Eagles. Perennial state tournament teams like Ocala Forest, Sarasota Riverview, last year's champion Gulf Coast and Plant may be hard to overtake.
A top-10 finish may be a more realistic goal, but the Eagles are still optimistic.
"We played in one tournament and it had mostly private schools," East Lake coach Joe Bloznalis said. "So you never really know how good you are. But I think we've got a shot."
Pero believes the region tournament score isn't a good indication of how good the team really is.
"We've been playing pretty good and actually we usually play a little better than this," Pero said. "I think we played kind of bad (Monday), mainly because the conditions were kind of tough. In districts we shot 299 so we can play better."