East Haddam — Old Saybrook ran into one roadblock or another over the last five years in pursuit of a Shoreline Conference regular-season golf title.
The result was five straight second places for the Rams, who finished behind four different teams during that span.
They finally busted through the last barrier on Thursday. By winning the Shoreline Conference tournament at Fox Hopyard, they clinched the program's first outright regular-season crown since 1974. They were co-champs in 2005.
Old Saybrook, which finished undefeated, had 324 strokes. Morgan (330) and defending champion Portland (346) placed second and third, respectively. Old Lyme (357) took sixth.
"We had to win this year," Old Saybrook coach Tim Arsenault said. "We were the Minnesota Vikings and Denver Broncos. The kids played well. (Jack) Ayers is the key."
Ayers, who earned medalist honors for the second straight year, set the tone by posting a 3-over 74. He was in the first group to finish and no one else came close to topping his score. Only two other golfers shot under 80 - Portland's Jon Sajdak (77) and Morgan's Frank Rivas (78).
"It's awesome," Ayers said of the team's first tournament title since 2005. "It feels good to pull it out."
A tricky wind and fast greens increased the degree of difficulty on the challenging course.
Ayers' familarity with the course - he works part-time at Fox Hopyard during the summer - helped the senior thrive.
"It was a total grind out there," said Ayers, who will play golf at Central Connecticut State University. "You really had to strike the ball well. I'll take 3-over 74 any day here. The wind was brutal."
Even Ayers stumbled, needing four putts to close out the eighth hole with a double bogey.
Ayers, a first team all-conference pick, remained calm in the face of adversity. He played consistent golf and ended up with two birdies.
"I just knew there was a lot of golf to be played," Ayers said of his mindset after his double bogey. "I was 1-over after eight. I did get rattled but I just went back to work."
The rest of the Rams pitched in. No. 3 golfer Andy Heckler, a transfer from Xavier, fired an 80 to tie for fourth while J.T. Giegerich and Matt Cummins, two second-team all-conference picks, each had an 85. James Kanizaj (94) rounded out the top five.
Old Saybrook's depth should serve the Rams well in the Division IV state tournament. Seeded third, they're hoping to better last year's fourth-place finish.
Arsenault considers this team his best in nine years as coach. The Rams have lost only one regular season match in two years.
"They're really good kids," Arsenault said. "We have a good time."
Old Lyme could be a threat next season in the Shoreline. Its top four golfers are all juniors.
Matti Fuller, a first team all-conference selection, is the most experienced. Playing at No. 1, Fuller had an 84. After shooting a 45 on the front nine, he recovered to fire a 39 on the back. His score didn't reflect his all-around improvement this season.
"I had a real rough day," Fuller said. "On the front, I birdied my first hole and I was thinking it was going to be a really good day. After that, I just hit a wall. I found a lot of out of bounds. On the front, I couldn't get anything going.
"... On the back, I started to get it together and turned it around a little."
Old Lyme's No. 2 golfer, Travis Russell, had the low score for his team with an 83. Paul Burdick (97), George Logan (95) and Nick Berry (95) also competed.
"It wasn't our best match," Old Lyme coack Kirk Kaczor said. "We haven't been playing well the last few weeks. ... Obviously, Old Saybrook was going to be difficult to catch... They're really top-notch."