SULLIVAN — If you are driving by the Sullivan Country Club and see some strange lights on the course late at night, don’t be alarmed.
It’s probably the Sullivan boys golf team preparing for its playoff run.
The Redskins won their Class 1A Windsor Regional last Tuesday with a score of 319 — 45 strokes ahead of their closest competitor.
They are a favorite in their Danville Sectional on Monday as they face other regional winners like Beecher (353), Downs Tri-Valley (334), and Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley (345). A sectional title would be the first in Sullivan golf history.
“These kids know how to practice, they don’t need a whole lot of guidance. These are the type of kids you don’t have to tell them you have to practice,” Sullivan golf coach Ben Richter said. “They will be out here with their carts and their lights on shining down the fairway at 10 o’clock at night hitting balls. We have a pretty special group here.”
Led by regional medalist Caden Ellis, Sullivan has had considerable regular season success the past two years. Last year’s 17-1 mark was improved upon to 21-0 in nine-hole match play this season.
Even with that 37-1 mark, the Redskins have been challenged this year.
“The whole thing is we’ve seen a lot better competition when it comes to the 18-hole tournaments. The teams we’ve been beaten by are either Charleston that won 2A state last year and Hillsboro that got second in 1A state last year,” Richter said. “It’s good to be challenged but it is nice to have that feather in your cap that we haven’t been beaten in regular season play.”
Sullivan's regional performance wasn't a fluke and as a team it has been consistent this season.
"We’ve been between 315-325 and if they go out and shoot that we have a pretty good chance of winning sectionals and going onto state (the top three teams at sectionals advance)," Richter said. "The boys feel pretty confident, I feel pretty confident but we still have to show up and do our job."
One motivation for the team — pizza and the possibility of steak.
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"(Earlier in the season) coach said he would take us all out for pizza if we broke 320 and the next match we broke 320. Now we are breaking 320 more consistently. Pizza was a good motivator," Ellis said. "Now we are onto 310 so we are always trying to improve. We should get a trip to a steak house if we break 310."
Ellis, a senior, led all golfers at the regional with a score of 73 and last year Ellis finished 12th in the individual competition at the 1A state golf competition.
"He’s got a lot of finesse and he’s a great iron player. He’s long off the tee and his whole thing is getting there in a short amount of time and making a two-put or sometimes he will roll one in and walk away with birdie or par," Richter said. "He’s a great all-around player and he works at it all the time."
One advantage Ellis has is a course outside his front door.
"We live on about hole No. 5 (of Sullivan Country Club) so we are about 300 yards from the course so I can go out whenever I want and play," Ellis said. "Our whole family golfs and whenever I’m bored instead of watching Neflix I will go out and shoot some puts."
Ellis' brother Leyton Ellis joins him on the Sullivan team and the brothers are very different.
"I’m probably more of an introvert and Leyton is more of an extrovert I would say. He’s a pretty funny dude and I try to stay calm but we both show emotion on the course. It’s nice playing with him," Caden said. "He's has gotten a lot better over the years and he is starting to shoot in the 70s. I’m proud of him."
Caden is feeling a lot less pressure in getting the Redskins to state as a group this year.
"We have so much depth on our team — we had 20 guys out this year on the team and we have nine or 10 guys who can play varsity," he said. "It is nice to not have to stress about getting a win. We are just working on ourselves really and when we do that we can go out and play good golf."
The recent Sullivan golf success isn’t limited to the boys team. The girls team has expanded and improved. It qualified for sectionals as well, finishing second at the 1A Charleston Regional with a team of 392 led by senior Addison Darush’s 86.
“Our girls team qualified for their sectional as a team and they haven’t done that since the 1980s. I’m pretty proud of them,” Richter said. “We’ve got 16 girls this year and having people challenge each other for varsity spots. The girls team (coached by Andy Wagner) is really improved over the past couple of years.”
A boys victory at sectionals would be groundbreaking for the Redskins.
"At the very beginning of the season we said let’s talk about what we want to do as a team and it is to win the sectional. We feel really confident about getting in the top three teams at the sectional and getting to state," Richter said. "It’s never happened for Sullivan for golf and for Sullivan High School we haven’t won a sectional since 2002, so we would really like to bring one of those home."
Contact Matthew Flaten at (217) 421-6968. Follow him on Twitter: @MattFlaten