Rarely has Pickerington High School North boys golf coach Casey Milligan pulled players aside before a particular hole and told them what needs done.
But with an undefeated OCC-Ohio Division championship all but clinched during the last of four league tournaments Sept. 11 at Apple Valley, Milligan did exactly that.
"Every kid that walked off (No.) 17 at Apple Valley, I walked up to them and told them it's Oct. 8," Milligan said. "Go make a par right here for us to win. We might as well practice now, and four of the five did it. I was very happy."
That day, victory wasn't an issue.
On Oct. 8 at Apple Valley, the Panthers hope clutch performances in the Division I district tournament prelude the program's first trip to state in its 10-year history. Despite numerous successes at the league and sectional levels, North has yet to advance to state as a team.
To earn another shot, the Panthers first must advance from a sectional at Turnberry on Tuesday, Oct. 1. North earned the top seed in the district. The top three teams and top three individuals not on qualifying teams from each of three sectionals will advance to the district tournament.
Perhaps never was a district tournament loss so excruciating for the Panthers as last year. New Albany (298) and Dublin Coffman (300) clinched the first two of three berths to state. North and Dublin Jerome both shot 306, and the Celtics advanced on fifth-player score and eventually won the state championship.
The blow was softened somewhat when Scot Sapp earned an individual state berth, defeating teammate Nick Montes on the second hole of a sudden-death playoff. Sapp, now a senior, went on to shoot 19-over par 161 at state, tying for 12th overall with five other golfers. But the tougher memories continue to stand out for the Panthers.
"I'm not gonna lie. It does matter," said Milligan, whose team was 24-0 in the OCC-Ohio and won an undefeated league championship for the fifth consecutive year. "Some of the kids have the score from Apple Valley as the screensaver on their phone."
Sapp has shot 68 three times this year, a round equaled by Montes in the Pinnacle Classic on Aug. 31. North shot 291 to win that tournament, which also included Jerome and usual area powers Coffman, St. Charles and Upper Arlington.
Rounding out the lineup have been seniors Zach Goodchild, Kevin Hannah, Andrew Ruehle and Alex Weiss.
"We have three guys I think that, on any given day, can be the best players in central Ohio," Sapp said of himself, Montes and Weiss, the OCC-Ohio Player of the Year. "Having Andrew and Zach playing four and five, they can always give us a solid score."
Montes said the Panthers simply need to remain consistent to make the state tournament.
"We need to be more focused and know that every team can play well on a given day," he said. "We just have to be ready."
Milligan said he has increased emphasis on players' performances on their final four holes in each event almost exclusively because of last year's district finish.
"We didn't finish well that day," he said. "I probably talk more about how important every single stroke is. After last year, they listen a little bit more."
Tigers also will compete at Turnberry
Central will join North for the 13-team sectional at Turnberry.
The Panthers will start in the first group from No. 1 with seventh-seeded Olentangy and eighth-seeded Mount Vernon.
The Tigers will start from No. 10 with 12th-seeded Westerville Central and Hilliard Darby.
Other teams at Turnberry are 10th-seeded Granville, 11th-seeded Thomas Worthington, Franklin Heights, Hilliard Davidson, Reynoldsburg, Westerville North and Whetstone.
Central is seeking to return to district for the first time since 2009. No Tigers golfer has advanced as an individual since Shane Eltzroth in 2011.