BILLINGS — Bucky Crippen entered the State B golf tournament striving to live up to a title-winning family legacy. After a picturesque first day of the boys competition Tuesday at Eaglerock, Crippen is in the midst of a race that could go any number of ways.
Entering Wednesday’s final round, Crippen is one stroke back of the leader, Manhattan’s Josh Neth, who shot an even-par 72. Nipping at the heels of Neth and Crippen is Colstrip’s Peter Brown, who is two shots off the lead.
In all, seven golfers are jumbled at the top separated by seven strokes.
The soft-spoken Neth, a senior, placed out of the top 15 at last year’s tournament at the Marias Valley course in Shelby, so he is currently in uncharted territory. Naturally, Neth was happy with his opening round at Eaglerock, which consisted of four birdies, 10 pars and four bogeys.
“I was hitting everything pretty well. Nothing really gave me trouble,” Neth said. “I tried my best not to have any blow-up holes, just limit the bogeys.”
In the girls competition, defending champion Kylie Esh of Loyola is comfortably in the lead after firing a first-round 72 — though she lamented her putting performance.
For better or worse, it was a conventional round for Esh, a University of Montana golf commit. Her closest competitor entering the final round is teammate Katie Fagg, who sits six shots back with a first-round 78.
Esh said she's capable of more.
“It was good. I hit the ball really well but I didn’t putt very good," Esh said of her opening 18 holes. "Hopefully I’ll putt better (Wednesday) because I want to get something in the 60s. That’s definitely doable.”
“Most of my bogeys were just three-putts. I hit most of the greens, it was just my putting that I wish would have been better,” Esh said.
Crippen, meanwhile, is trying to become the fourth member of his family to win a State B title: Sisters Kelsie, Maggie and Sadie combined to win five championships for Loyola between 2008 and 2015.
Crippen was two-under-par after his first four holes, but ran into trouble by taking a double bogey on No. 9 when he pushed his tee shot into the water to the right of the fairway.
The final-round battle between Neth, Crippen and Brown — or Thompson Falls’ Dylan Beckman (76) and Ethan Brown (77), Shelby’s Aaron White (78) or Townsend’s Cody Graveley (79) — could be hotly contested.
“I think I made five birdies today because Josh and Peter were right in there and they were pushing me," said Crippen, who finished second to Libby’s Ryggs Johnston as a sophomore last year. “I feel like when I’m being pushed I play better. There’s some pressure. It’s a good thing though.”
“I just have to stay consistent and limit the number of bad holes,” Neth said.
Colstrip’s Brown had 12 pars and two birdies, but he said he was disappointed in a three-bogey stretch on Nos. 5, 6 and 7.
In the boys team race, Shelby leads with a total score of 333. Aaron White led the Coyotes with a first-round 78. Loyola sits in second at 341, while Big Timber is in third at 344.
Loyola is out to a big lead on the girls side with a team total of 346. Shelby is is second place, 19 strokes back. Three Forks (386) is in third.
Esh leads teammate Fagg — the runner-up last year — as well as Shelby's Abbey Aklestad (86) and Skyler Martin (87) after Day 1. Esh said her primary goal is to push Loyola to the team title and snap Three Forks’ three-peat bid.
Makayla Rowan shot a 90 in the first round for Three Forks. Teammate Shainy Mack carded a 92.
“It’s definitely a risk-reward course,” Esh said of the grounds at Eaglerock. “There are a lot of holes where you can hit your driver and be up next to the green or you can hit your 3-wood and play it safe. That will be interesting for (Wednesday) in certain situations if it’s close.”