AIKEN - When South Aiken's top guns could not quite push the Thoroughbreds over the top in the Pre-Season High School Golf Classic on Monday at Woodside Plantation Country Club, Ben Karns and the Gaffney Indians took control.
Karns shot 2-under 70 to win the individual title, guiding Gaffney to a two-shot victory in the season-opening tournament.
The Indians finished with a score of 310 (+22), two stokes better than South Aiken, North Augusta and T.L. Hanna. South Aiken, playing on its home course, finished third in the state last year, after winning Class AAAA state titles in 2000 and 2001.
"They've competed for (the state championship) the last four years," Karns said of South Aiken. "Looking them in the eye, knowing you beat them, it's always nice."
Runner-up Ian Price shot a 72 for South Aiken, but was unable to affect the Thoroughbreds' team score. Price, a junior playing in his first varsity tournament, failed to qualify for one of the six team spots before the competition and played as an individual.
Had Price's score counted, the Thoroughbreds would have won the tournament by eight strokes.
"I should've made qualifying, but they just told me to come out and play my best, and I did," Price said. "I only missed one green, and that helped a lot."
What made Price's varsity debut even more impressive was the fact that he was playing with a sore, slightly swollen forearm after being hit by an errant ball on the driving range during warmups. Furthermore, Thoroughbreds coach Donnie Holland was absent because of his commitments with the SCHSL basketball playoffs.
South Aiken's top two qualifiers, Patrick Cunning (74) and Joel McAlhaney (75), finished third and tied for fourth, respectively, and kept the Thoroughbreds in the hunt throughout the afternoon. But Karns bogeyed just two holes and birdied four to capture the third title of his career.
Karns, who has committed to play at Presbyterian next year, said he appreciated the team title more than the individual crown.
"We came down here to play as a team," he said. "It's much more gratifying when you win as a team. That's what you come out here for."
Joining McAlhaney in fourth place at 75 were Casey Thompson and Justin Thompson of North Augusta, Phillip Mollica of T.L. Hanna and Jamie Lightsey of Fort Mill.
Reach Lane Kramer at (803) 648-1395, Ext. 106.