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Bilby catches fire to capture OVAC crown

SHOOTING RANGE — Brooke’s Ryan Bilby launches a shot on the 12th hole of the OVAC 5A golf tournament on Thursday. -Cody Tomer

WHEELING — Any time Brooke’s Ryan Bilby and Wheeling Park’s Noah Seivertson step on the course together, its guaranteed to be must-see golf.

The two might have delivered the most exciting showing on Thursday at the Jones Course of Oglebay in the OVAC Class 5A golf tournament.

Heading to the 12th hole, Seivertson held a two-shot lead over his friendly rival before Bilby came storming back with three-straight birdies on 14, 15 and 16 to claim his second-consecutive OVAC 5A championship.

The Brooke junior shot a one-over-par 72 to earn medalist honors, with Seivertson carding a 74 for runner-up.

There was a new team champion this year as Dover — in its first year as a member of the OVAC — finished with a 321 for its first conference title. Two-time defending champion Wheeling Park was next with a 336.

Bilby’s comeback victory started on the 13th hole when he recorded a near 20-foot bogey putt, a shot he had to make to stay in contention.

“I knew on 13 that it was a must-make,” Bilby said. “If I had missed that shot, it would have went downhill from there. When I made that, it was probably the turning point.”

It certainly was, as Bilby sunk a 25-foot birdie putt on 14 to get to within one stroke, before coming to within three feet on his tee-shot on the Par-3 15, where he birdied to tie the match.

He took control on 16 where he drained his third straight birdie putt for a two-stroke lead after a Seivertson bogey.

“Noah had me by two, and I knew I had to do something,” Bilby said. “He was playing a good round, and I was kind of struggling. I had been making good putts all day but made nothing until then.

“I was kind of due, and they really started falling. I was just reading the greens well and hitting good putts.”

His performance impressed his coach but didn’t surprise him.

“This kid is amazing,” Brooke coach Ron Ujcich Jr. said. “That bogey putt on 13 was a savior for him. It kept him in the match, and then he turns around and goes birdie, birdie, birdie and made a 35-40-footer on 16 to birdie that one.

“For me, I’m not surprised because I’ve seen him do it so many times now. He never loses his composure, he never loses his focus and he never lets things get him down. It’s unique for a high school kid to be able to do that.”

He finished with back-to-back pars to wrap up the victory. His adrenaline showed, as he crushed his tee-shot on 18 as the fans looked on from the clubhouse.

“I felt like that was a really good drive,” Bilby said. “It landed about 50 yards in. I thought, I might as well finish with some flair.”

Seivertson did all he could to keep pace with Bilby, making par on 13 holes and adding a birdie on No. 9. It just wasn’t meant to be.

“Early on I was just trying to put some shots together,” Seivertson said. “I kept making a lot of pars and kept hitting some good putts. It wasn’t even that I did anything wrong, but hats off to Bilby. He just came out and starting firing putts. When he’s making everything like that it’s fun to watch.

“Every match with Bilby is a new chance to compete against him and we are buddies outside of golf, too. It’s just fun to play and compete with someone you know really well.”

The respect is mutual.

“I love big events and good competition,” Bilby said. “We had a good battle (Thursday). Noah played really well, too. I just kind of came alive at the end.”

As for Dover, it made sure to make a grand entrance into the OVAC.

The team’s No. 3 Carter Begue and No. 4 Cameron Spraggins each shot a 78 to earn All-OVAC accolades, while No. 2 Reese Klar tallied an 82 and No. 1 Gabe Miller finished with an 83.

“It’s a great feeling,” Dover coach Jim O’Donnell said of winning the tournament. “Three of our guys came down here and played this course within the last two weeks and two guys have never seen it. I hadn’t seen it until this summer. To come down here and have them shoot this score is impressive.

“They’ve had a nice season but this is one of the more impressive wins just because of the lack of familiarity with the course. It’s a testament to their hard work.”

Along with Seivertson’s effort, Park received an 84 from freshman Gavin Goodrich, an 85 from James Salvatori and a 93 from Owen Leary to place second.

“We knew Dover and New Philadelphia were two new tough teams coming in here,” Park coach and tournament director Don Headley said. “All five of their guys played well. That’s what it takes to win in this game. You have to be consistent from top to bottom. We didn’t quite get that but hats off to Dover. They came into our territory and won. We wish them luck the rest of the season.

“I’m really happy for Bilby and for Noah. They had a heckuva battle going out there. The last six holes were an absolute war and was awesome to watch. It was a great experience for both of them.”

Warren Local’s Seth Davis rounded out the All-OVAC team after firing a 79 on a sun-filled afternoon.

“I want to thank the park commission and Oglebay Park for taking care of the kids,” Headley said. “Mr. (Danny) Ackerman and the crew up here did a fantastic job. The golf course is absolutely perfect up here.”

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