Ryan Hollinger wasn't even slated to play in his team's season-opening YAIAA Division I match Wednesday.

After a lackluster week of practice, Hollinger hadn't cracked South Western High's top-six lineup as of Wednesday morning.

But starting a freshman in place of a seasoned senior on his team's home course was just too tall of an order for Mustang head golf coach Tom Miller.

So he gave Hollinger another chance.

"I said, 'Well, let's see if he can earn his way in,'" Miller said.

Miller had Hollinger square off with Zack Swanner a few hours before the YAIAA match was set to begin at South Hills Golf Club. Hollinger came out one stroke ahead of the youngster.

"Coach had us hitting certain shots. Then, after that, we came over to the putting green and I just happened to beat him over here on the green," Hollinger said.

A few hours later and Hollinger had bested every other member of his team and a good majority of the 36-player field.

Hollinger's 7-over-par 78 led the Mustangs and helped South Western secure a third-place finish with a total team score of 415.

Dallastown and Central York finished two strokes ahead of South Western with each squad ending with a 413. The score of Dallastown's sixth golfer, Dalton Wise, was 90 and was better than Central's No. 6, Trevor Fidler, by eight strokes, thus giving Dallastown the tiebreaker.

But it was the one-stroke difference in the playoff before the round began that gave the Mustangs more to be happy about.

Swanner is a proven up-and-coming player while Hollinger still has plenty of golf left in him for the long haul. His team-low score Wednesday was the first time he's turned in his team's best round since he shot a 73 at Honey Run Golf Club last season. It came at the perfect time as Hollinger was starting to lose confidence in himself.

"It helps reassure me that I'm a better golfer than I was in practice this week and last week," Hollinger said.

Wes Ashton of South Western swings while aiming for the third green during Wednesday’s YAIAA Division I match at South Hills Golf Club
Wes Ashton of South Western swings while aiming for the third green during Wednesday's YAIAA Division I match at South Hills Golf Club (Evening Sun Photo by Clare Becker)

After he birdied the daunting 559-yard, par-5 first hole on the West Course, Hollinger said he left a few birdies on the course, but improved his game by eliminating unnecessary shots.

"I just tried not to hit stupid shots. The key was making up for the stupid shots that I did hit," Hollinger said. "Pin locations were tough today. You had to go to the middle of the greens, had to two-putt for par and get out of there."

Among the six-team field, Red Lion finished fourth with 420 while Spring Grove finished fifth with a team score of 426. New Oxford ended the day with a 602 and sixth.

Red Lion's Brandon Stine took home the individual win with his 5-over-par 76. Dan Hunter of Central York finished second with a 77 while Hollinger tied with Central's Paul Kuhn and Dallastown's Brandon Greenplate for third place.

Spring Grove was led by Zack Smeltzer's 79 while Brandon Trimmer's 103 was the best the Colonials could muster.

Wes Ashton tallied the second-best score for South Western, but wasn't pleased with his 10-over-par 81 after the match.

"We don't get a whole lot of evaluation time, so today we were looking to win. Just straight forward, looking to win," Miller said. "A couple of people folded at the end. We had some big scores come in in the last couple of minutes, so that hurt us.

"The main thing I'm looking for at all times is consistency. If I can consistently count on a kid to get me a score, then I know where to put him. Unfortunately, I have nine guys and girls who can qualify every week."
tjohnson@eveningsun.com