Jo Baranczyk was halfway home to Bay Port Tuesday when she hit the short-iron jackpot to close out an epic comeback on the final day of the WIAA Division 1 state girls golf tournament and win her first state championship.
For the record, a 7-iron, a pitching wedge and a putter can comfortably cover the 250 yards from the temporary forward tees on No. 4 along the far eastern edge of University Ridge GC. We know this because that was the combination Baranczyk used to make her sixth birdie of the day with a life-changing 5-foot putt that gave the Pirates sophomore a closing 70 and a one-shot win over Emily Lauterbach (70), the 2016 champion from Hartland Arrowhead.
"I was not sure," Baranczyk said, when asked if she knew the importance of her final hole at the end of a day she began on No. 3 in the rare shotgun-start format employed to avoid late-afternoon storms in the forecast. "My coach (Jeff Johnson) kept me updated a couple of times, but I didn't want to know a couple of times. On that last hole, I hoped that birdie would save me."
Baranczyk was still working her way up the fourth fairway as Lauterbach left her finishing hole at No. 18 with tears in her eyes, knowing she had let this one get away. A pair of three-putts late in her round, she feared at that very moment, might keep her from becoming a two-time WIAA state champion.
"I'm just disappointed in myself," said Lauterbach, a University of Wisconsin recruit who birdied three of four holes starting at No. 2 to turn in 3-under 33 and added another birdie at the par-5 11th hole to take a four-shot lead with seven holes to play before things started to go south. "I three-putted (Nos.) 15 and 16 (and) I lost by one so those were just kind of sad three-putts."
They weren't nearly as sad as the look in Lauterbach's eyes as she came to grips with her fate.
Baranczyk won her first state championship with a 2-under 142 total while Lauterbach wound up at 1-under 143 for 36 holes. It is the first time in the event's 47-year history that two Division 1 golfers have finished below par in the same championship, but — for Lauterbach — it was also the first time in any competition for the Warhawks this fall that she did not come out on top.
"And it's state," Lauterbach said. "I've won every single meet and then, the one that mattered, just kind of slips away, I guess."
Maybe. After her sizzling start left left her 3-under after five holes, Lauterbach then missed a pair of 5-foot birdie putts on Nos. 8 and 9 or she would have shot 31 on the front nine. She bogeyed No. 12 after her last birdie one hole earlier, but the two three-putts near the end of her round were just partly to blame for falling short.
But the rest was Baranczyk's doing. She got hot at the right time — after bogeying three of four holes around a birdie at No. 9 that left her 4 shots behind — and made four birdies over a six-hole stretch on the back nine that she played in 3-under.
Her back-to-back birdies at Nos. 16 and 17, combined with Lauterbach's bogey at No. 15, left the two golfers tied. Ultimately, the state championship came down to the fourth hole, a par 4 that Lauterbach drove earlier in the day and made a two-putt birdie.
"I used an iron off the tee and I had a pitching wedge in," Baranczyk said. "I was just hoping to give myself a chance. I put that to about 5 feet and made that putt."
Baranczyk made it sound easy afterward. But as she stood over the 5-footer?
"I was shaking," she said. "I don't know what was going to through my head, ... but I was hoping it would be (for) the win."
Kettle Moraine didn't let things get that tight in completing its wire-to-wire victory. Middleton, behind Katherine Meier's fifth-place finish, put a 325 on the board and halved the 16-stroke deficit with which it began the day and, at 659, finished eight strokes behind the Lasers (333-651), who counted an 81 from Julia Schilling, a pair of 83s from Jenna Anderson and Elizabeth Mantey and an 86 from Madeline Koenig to collect its first state championship.
"I looked (at live scoring) about four holes into the back nine and tried not to look again," Kettle Moraine coach John Sams said. "Word does travel. I will say coming down to (Nos.) 17 and 18 I did take a peek just to see where they were at and just knowing they were giving a chase, it got a lot closer at the end. We just tried to keep them calm, get them to finish and it's really impressive to see them close the door.
"I can't say we finished as strong as we wanted to, but knowing that we set ourselves up (Monday) with a very strong lead made it a little easier for us."