Panthers geared up for 2018

Sports Editor

After a third-place finish in the 6A State Tournament a season ago, the Benton Panthers golf team begins its second tournament of the season today at the Charging Wildcat Invitational. The Panthers finished third in their first match of the season Monday at the Simmons Invitational in El Dorado.
The Panthers return their top golfer of the past two seasons in senior Brendan Little, who shot a 75 on Monday, tied for second overall in the tournament.
“He didn’t play his best,” Benton Coach Mark Balisterri said of Little in El Dorado. “He was kind of frustrated with his score. He had a double bogey.”
If Little was frustrated with a 3-over 75, there are definitely high expectations from the senior this year.
“We’re really glad to have him back,” Balisterri said. “He’s probably been our best golfer for the last three years. He’s gotten a lot better. He won a big ASGA tournament this summer against some of the best players in the state. He’s going to anchor our team, that’s for sure.
“He made All-State his sophomore year and missed All-State by one shot last year. He’s been our guy. He’s real steady. He’s going to shoot anywhere from even par to 75 usually almost every time.”
Also returning for the Panthers is senior Parker Wilson, who didn’t compete in El Dorado because he was busy winning a tourney in Oklahoma.
“Parker Wilson will be our No. 2 golfer,” Balisterri said. “He’s had a real good summer, too. He wasn’t at the tournament on Monday and that was one reason our score was as high as it was. He was in Tulsa playing in the Junior PGA regional tournament and ended up winning the tournament. He shot 2-under the first day and played really good. He’s going to be another guy that will be around par, maybe a little above par.”
Junior Ethan Bearden looks to be Benton’s No. 3 golfer, with fellow junior Corbin Beard coming in at No. 4.
“Ethan Bearden has come a long way since last year, worked real hard,” Balisterri said. “He’s going to be in the 70s somewhere. He shot a 78 Monday.
“Corbin Beard will be our No. 4 guy and he’s a newcomer. He’s come along good. We’re hoping he can be consistent in the low 80s. If he can do that and we can go low with a couple of guys, Ethan does what he needs to do, we’re going to be pretty good.”
Three Panthers will battle for that No. 5 spot in senior Peyton Pallette, who committed to play baseball for the Arkansas Razorbacks recently, junior Grant Berry and sophomore Anderson Dingus.
The going will be tougher this year, however, as the Panthers, previously in the 6A West, will now be in the 5A West with Sheridan, Lake Hamilton, Lakeside (which won Monday’s Simmons Invite), Hot Springs, Fair, Texarkana and El Dorado.
“I still think we’ll have a good shot, but the biggest thing is with this new conference deal, it’ll be a lot tougher to win a state championship and be in the top five,” Balisterri said. “Now you throw in not only Jonesboro (last year’s 6A state champion) and Greenwood, you got Little Rock Christian and Lakeside in the mix, too. It’s going to be tough. In every sport, it’s going to be a lot tougher.
“Being in 6A, there’s less teams for one, but you take the top four or five teams in 5A and stick them with the 6A top four or five, a whole field of people in the state tournament that are as good as each other. That would be like taking the top three 6A football schools and putting them with the 7A. It’s going to be tough.”
After losing senior No. 1 golfer Abbey Lee to graduation, the Benton girls golf team does return some experience in seniors Allie Rasberry and Kaylee Fisk, as well as sophomore Gianna Meceli. But, that’s it as there is no depth.
“I’ve got two seniors and one sophomore,” Balisterri said. “It’s thin. We have to get out and recruit some girls to play golf. After this year, we may not have anybody try out.
“The biggest thing with them is to be able to do good enough to make it to state out of conference. You have to finish in the top three in conference to go to state.
“We got three girls that will shoot around 100. If they play good, they’ll shoot anywhere from 95 to 100. We just need to work hard and try to keep getting better.”
Today’s match at Burns Park in North Little Rock will be against some really tough competition.
“We’ll be full strength (today), so I’m excited about that,” Balisterri said. “We’re playing against the best teams in Arkansas, besides Fayetteville. Cabot, North Little Rock, Conway, there’s going to be some really good teams. We’ll see how we do.”