RICHMOND — Henry Clay's girls played up to expectations and won the 7th Region high school golf title at Gibson Bay on Monday, and flashed winning smiles afterward.
"It's amazing," said junior Meg Mills, who led the Blue Devils with a 76, her lowest round of the year.
She wasn't playing for personal gratification, though.
"More than anything, I wanted to be there for my team, back them up and get a good score on the board for them," she said.
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Western Hills senior Megan Kinney took medalist honors. She birdied the last three holes to shoot a 75, edging Mills by a shot.
"It was nerve-wracking; I'm still shaking," Kinney said. "I had all my teammates out here supporting me, and knowing that made it easier."
Henry Clay had a team total of 324 to beat runner-up Boyle County by 10 shots.
Both teams advance to next week's state tournament in Bowling Green.
Mills led Henry Clay's run to the title, followed by senior Allison Leigeb (80), freshman Sara Bidarian (83), freshman Leslie Ginter (85) and junior Alison Miller (91).
Devils Coach Kevin Mims credited Leigeb with providing an important intangible.
"Allison's the reason this team has played as well as it has," he said. "She's a heck of a leader. Even when she's playing badly, the other girls are riding her back."
Leigeb said it was a role she embraced: "We've all gone through our rough patches this year. We've had injuries and team drama, of course, so I knew I needed to be a strong leader."
Mims was confident the Devils could improve on last year's second-place finish in the region. "Based on their attitudes and how they were swinging the club, I figured we could shoot somewhere between 320 and 330," he said.
Leigeb knew halfway through the round that Henry Clay was going to win, "but I knew we couldn't get too cocky and let it slip away."
Kinney's clutch play down the stretch — three closing birdies — made up for a stretch of three straight bogeys earlier on the back nine.
When she got to the last hole and faced a 12-footer for birdie, Western Hills Coach Lesa Hodge pepped her up.
"I have the most amazing coach in the world," Kinney said. "She told me, 'Just buckle down, make the putt and see where that gets you.'"
It got her to a region title.
"I was lucky to get to go to state last year," Kinney said. "I'm blessed to get to go again this year."
Boyle County was led by Michaela Jarman (79), Rachel Pingleton (80) and Caroline McDonald (83), followed by Alexis Draut (92) and Samantha Stewart (92).
Qualifying for the state as individuals were Kinney, Jane Watts of Woodford County, Grace Rose of West Jessamine and Kaitlyn Riley of Anderson County.
Watts shot an 80. Rose and Riley carded 81s, then survived a playoff that included Shelby Campbell of Paul Laurence Dunbar and Tristyn Nolin of Madison Central.
Henry Clay 324, Boyle County 334, Paul Laurence Dunbar 356, West Jessamine 356, Anderson County 362, Western Hills 363, Lexington Christian 372, Lafayette 383, Madison Central 389, Sayre 391, Franklin County 399, Mercer County 447, Tates Creek 447, Madison Southern 462, Berea 493, Model 536. (East Jessamine, Lexington Catholic, Woodford County did not have four golfers.)
75 —Megan Kinney (Western Hills). 76—Meg Mills (Henry Clay). 79—Michaela Jarman (Boyle). 80—Allison Leigeb (Henry Clay), Jane Watts (Woodford), Rachel Pingleton (Boyle). 81—Shelby Campbell (Dunbar), Grace Rose (West Jessamine), Kaitlyn Riley (Anderson), Tristyn Nolin (Madison Central). 82—Anna-Marie Hyatt (Anderson). 83—Sara Bidarian (Henry Clay), Mackenzie Neal (Madison Central), Caroline McDonald (Boyle). 84—Sabrina Rutherford (LCA), Judianne Speech (West Jessamine). 85—Leslie Ginter (Henry Clay). 86—Brooke McGarry (LexCath), Taylor Cammack (Franklin), Madison Saladin (Dunbar). 89—Peyton Silva (Western Hills), Katelyn Sexton (Sayre).