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Playing in rainy conditions, Falcons post a runner-up finish behind Wilsonville

BANKS — Neither wind nor rain nor hail could stop the Liberty girls golf team on Tuesday.by: HILLSBORO TRIBUNE PHOTO: CHASE ALLGOOD - Liberty junior Stephanie Miller strikes a putt during a downpour on Tuesday at a Northwest Oregon Conference girls golf match at Quail Valley Golf Course in Banks. Miller shot an 81 to win her third event of the season.

With such tough weather conditions, it was not an ideal day for golf at Quail Valley Golf Course, but the Falcons battled through the weather in particular — as well as some injury and frustration — to finish second in the fourth Northwest Oregon Conference match of the season.

“It went OK,” Liberty junior Stephanie Miller said. “The weather really affected a lot of players today, and a lot of us were worn out, but overall I think everybody played to the best of their ability.”

After Liberty took the opening two league tournaments of the season, a rising Wilsonville team won won its second in a row on Tuesday to forge a tie in the overall season standings. The Wildcats posted a team score of 188 under the modified stableford scoring system, while the Falcons finished with a 159. Sandy (146) and Sherwood (125) followed in third and fourth.

Wilsonville’s recent streak halted a run of about 10 consecutive NWOC victories for the Falcons — the five-time reigning conference champions — dating to a couple of seasons ago. The Wildcats have been earning it, Liberty coach Stuart Kivett said.

“In golf, when the other teams don’t have anything to do with your score, all you can do is the best you can do,” Kivett explained. “Anybody who’s ever played golf just knows that you can’t make yourself play better. It’s not an effort sport. You can’t play harder.

“Some days it’s there, and Wilsonville, to their credit, they’re playing awesome. They’re scoring the way they should. With some injuries and with some inconsistency, we just haven’t scored quite up where we can. But to Wilsonville’s credit, they’re doing it, so good for them.”

While Liberty could not quite pick up its third NWOC win of the spring, it did boast the individual medalist in Miller, who posted a score of 63. The Wilsonville duo of Audrey Chames (58) and Kaitlyn Howe (55) finished second and third.

Miller mentioned her putting in particular as a bright spot in her game on Tuesday. She said that she shot an 81 in terms of stroke play — not bad at all on a foul-weather day.

“I had 26 putts overall, 14 on the front, and then I one-putted six holes on the back, so I think that helped,” she said.

That putting is likely a considerable part of what has helped Miller to post three individual wins in the four league matches to date. The only exception to that was last week’s match at Chehalem Glenn, which Howe won.

Kivett said that Miller’s putting “for the last three weeks has been off the charts” and that she sank two birdie putts of 35 feet or longer on Tuesday.

“She was telling me the other day that she’s falling in love with putting, and if you’re going to get good at this game, you have to fall in love with chipping and putting,” Kivett said.

The team’s lone senior, McKenzie Oster, who is a three-sport standout at Liberty, has been dealing with an aching knee this spring that has been limiting her rotation and power. Despite that, she shot a 54 and finished fourth overall.

“It was an interesting round,” said Oster, who is hoping to walk on to Washington State’s basketball team next school year. “I felt like I was striking the ball a lot better than I have, and my short game was a lot more solid than it has been. I just couldn’t really find ways to score. I was getting a lot of bogeys ... which I need to be getting pars and birdies.

“I just kind of got caught on the bogey train, so it was hard to get off.”

Netianah Northcutt (22) and Elaina Maki (20) completed the scoring for Liberty, and Lorrin Santoro (9) also participated. Northcutt, in particular, found herself frustrated by the soggy course and the weather, which brought her to tears more than once, she said.

Both underclassmen, she and Maki are having to step into big roles already in their young high school careers, as Liberty has just five golfers out this spring and graduated 2013 NWOC champion Sam Miller, Stephanie’s older sister, last spring. So the younger Miller, Oster, Santoro, Maki and Northcutt are just enough golfers to field a full varsity squad.

That number is not an aberration. Despite the team’s run of success, numbers have typically been low, Kivett said. And over the years, Liberty has been buoyed by not just Oster and Miller, but by their older sisters, dating to the 2008 season. Golf runs in both families, Oster said, so both girls grew up in the sport.

That is not quite the case for Liberty’s other players, especially Maki. Last year, Oster convinced Maki, also her teammate in basketball, to pick up her clubs for the first time ever instead of going out for lacrosse. Northcutt had some experience in junior OGA golf, but she is still just a freshman.

So the Falcons are going through some growing pains right now.

“She’s only a second-year player. She plays like crazy,” Kivett said about Maki. “She’s so amazing, but as a second-year, inexperienced player, you’re going to have days that things don’t go well. And then, another girl who’s a freshman (Northcutt), she’s played a little bit, but she’s only a freshman. That’s asking a lot of younger players to try to produce.”

So that is what the Falcons are doing, even if it is on the fly. Their next chance comes next Tuesday at Charbonneau Golf Club in Wilsonville. After that, the league has one more tournament, at Mountain View Golf Club, before the district tournament, slated for May 12-13 at The Reserve in Aloha.

But it’s not all about the result for these girls. The process and the experience are important, too.

“Just steadily improving and trying to hopefully get people ready for next year especially,” Oster said about her ideas for the rest of the season. “Just kind of have fun, mostly, and try to keep the streak going. But if it doesn’t, we’ll just try to play hard and get better.”

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