By Mike Monahan

PARIS – After the awards ceremony Tuesday, each Mattoon golfer held the IHSA Class 2A regional champion plaque.

The Green Wave shot a 330 at Eagle Ridge in Paris, 18 strokes better than host Paris, which finished runner-up to also advance to next week’s sectional.

“It is great,” said MHS coach Bill Behrends. “We talked at the beginning of the year and we set two team goals. One was to win the conference (Apollo) and one was to win the regional, and we did both. The kids have to be pretty hard of themselves. They put in the work and they accomplished their goals. I am really proud of all of them and happy for them.”

Meade Johnson, a senior, led all 54 golfers with a 5-over-par 77 on the 6,239-yard course. Johnson had shot 80 on the course during the Paris Invitational earlier this season. He won Tuesday by one shot over Lawrenceville/Red Hill’s Cameron Ray.

“Today, I started poorly and I knew I just had to bounce back,” said Johnson. “The first two holes were bad. The rest were good.”

Johnson triple-bogeyed the first hole and bogeyed the next one before getting a par on the third. An eagle on the 477-yard par-5 No. 4 put him back in track.

“I said ‘I am going to turn this around right now’ and I did,” said Johnson. “I had a decent drive on the left side. I had about 200 yards in and hit the stick (flag pole) and bounced right next to the hole. I said, ‘let’s make this putt’ and I did and that gave me some confidence to keep going.”

Johnson wasn’t the only one who started off poorly. Only Colton Romine and Stewart Druin had a par on the first two holes

“I think the nerves got to us a little bit today,” said Behrends. “You know everyone is talking about how we are the heavy favorite to win. I think that puts a lot of extra pressure on everybody. I think we were a little nervous early on and then we were able to continue to manage the course the way we had talked about and stay steady, and I think that helped us in the long run.”

Charleston finished with a 363, good for sixth place. Josh Will was the only player to finish in the 80s for the Trojans with an 87. Preston Phillips had a 90, while Pierson Smith shot a 91. Jackson Becker and Cade Landrus finished with 92 and 93, respectively, while Peyton Daugherty carded a 97.

Johnson, who became the first Mattoon golfer to win a regional since Nicholas Nguyen in 2017, finished with 10 pars and had the best back nine with a 1-over 37.

“It is just really nice to win the regional,” said Johnson. “I came in at the beginning of the year wanting to win as a team. The next thing you know I look down at my scorecard and I have a chance to win individually. It is really sweet being my senior year. I get to go out with a little bit of a bang.”

Mattoon will be participating in the eight-team sectional at Greenview Golf Course in Centralia on Oct. 13.

Druin was fifth overall with an 82, while Romine followed with an 83. Blaine Powers and Evan Diedrich shot 88s and James Shamdin carded a 95 for the Green Wave.

Behrends, of course, was very happy with Johnson’s performance.

“He really stepped up,” said Behrends. “I am proud of him. He was nervous on the first tee. I could tell. He had a really tough first hole. He bounced back and so I am really proud of his toughness and his grit that he is not giving up after a tough first hole. He started playing really good golf. That was a great round today on a course that is supposed to be really difficult. I am really proud of the way that he showed leadership today.”

Johnson played on the last regional title team in 2017.

“It is just that moment you want to get back to and this year we had a good chance to do it,” said Johnson. “It was one of our goals to go out and win the regional and we did.”

Behrends said it was a roller coaster for a while. 

“I watched the rest of the field keep getting higher and higher scores and we kept staying steady,” said Behrends.”I thought after nine holes we were in a good spot and we were just able to grind it out the rest of the way.”

The key to having a successful score?

“You have to keep the ball in front of you,” Johnson said. “There are a lot of holes out here where you can struggle and mess up and get big numbers. The thing is you have to keep the ball in front of you and do what you can do and don’t try to do too much.”

Charleston coach Scott Dow said his team struggled.

“It was pretty windy out there today and it was tough conditions,” he said. “We had three players that it was their first time playing in a regional out of our six. I tried to get them to relax and not worry about it, but I saw some nerves out there in some shots that were not the norm. I am proud of them for grinding it out though. They didn’t hold their heads down. They kept playing hard every hole, and you can’t ask for any more than that.”

Charleston, the defending regional champs, finished the season 16-5 on dual matches.

“We had a good season,” said Dow. “We just struggled at the end. I mentioned getting the two back out of quarantine and I wasn’t sure how they were going to play. I am proud of the team. We didn’t do what I had hoped we would do, score-wise, but none of the scores were super high. We stuck to it and played hard and that is all we can ask them to do.”

Winning was a bonus, Behrends said, after thinking the season would be canceled due to the pandemic.

“At the beginning of the year, I wasn’t even sure we would have a season because of COVID-19,” said Behrends. “Even when we started, I wasn’t sure we were going to make it this far. It has been a fun ride, and I am enjoying the fact that the kids get to play.”

Mount Zion, Effingham, Arcola/Arthur-Loivngton-Atwood-Hammond, Lawrenceville/Red Hill, Olney and Meridian were the other teams competing.

Photo above: Evan Diedrich, Colton Romine, coach Bill Behrends, James Shamdin, Meade Johnson, Blaine Powers and Stewart Druin.