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Sprague — East Lyme High School coach Rudy Bagos is a bit superstitious.
He avoids talking to his golfers during a round. The Vikings prefer it that way.
"He can't talk," senior Fran Shields said. "It's a rule. If he talks to me, everything goes south."
With Bagos waiting back at the clubhouse, the Vikings turned in their best Wildcat Invitational performance in recent years, finishing fourth overall while playing a challenging Mohegan Sun Country Club at Pautipaug course.
Bagos couldn't stop talking about his Vikings after they completed their round on Monday with 342 strokes, finishing behind champion Glastonbury (337), Berlin (339) and Xavier (341).
Their finish was three places higher than last season.
"That's very impressive," Bagos said of his team's play. "I'm very proud of these kids. I'm smiling from ear-to-ear. I'm really happy for them. They're a great group.
"I'm glad to see them get rewarded for all their hard work."
Shields, East Lyme's No. 1 golfer, tied for fourth place with an 82, shooting 42 on the front and 40 on the back as the Eastern Connecticut Conference's top finisher. Zach Kosakowsky (85, 11th), Connor Callaghan (87, 15th) and Drew Bradley (88) rounded out the East Lyme scoring.
Competitors had to conqueror a redesigned course and steady, stiff winds. Only one golfer — medalist Evan Grenus of Glastonbury — shot below 81, firing a 74. He had four birdies.
"It was really tough," Shields said. "It was a mental grind. You have to hit every shot in the bag to really succeed here."
After a slow start, Shields found his groove in the last few weeks. Following Kosakowsky's advice, Shields shortened his swing. Better results followed. He kept the ball below the hole and avoided double bogeys Monday.
"One little minor adjustment, it's amazing how that can make such a difference," Shields said.
East Lyme outdistanced its ECC Large Division rival, Norwich Free Academy, which took seventh with 367 strokes.
"I'm disappointed," NFA coach Bob McPhail said. "I thought we could play better."
Playing on his team's home course, senior Nick Kamireddy had the low score for the Wildcats, shooting an 86 to place 13th overall. On two holes, he saw his shots land but couldn't find either ball. After not having a seven all year, he had five of them Monday.
"There were just a few holes where I just didn't know what went wrong," Kamireddy said. "It's really painful when you have an expectation to go out and play well, from yourself and other people, and you fall apart."
With another Wildcat Invitational over, NFA and East Lyme will resume fighting it out for the ECC Large Division regular season title. The two teams will be back at Mohegan Sun on Thursday in a key match.
If the Vikings beat Fitch today, they can win the title outright with a win on Thursday. East Lyme won the first meeting at Old Lyme Country Club.
"East Lyme has a really good team this year," Kamireddy said. "We see them on Thursday. I'll get a chance to redeem myself."
NFA shared the league title last season with Woodstock Academy.
East Lyme will attempt to win its first ECC Large championship since 2009.
The Vikings (13-1 overall) gained some confidence and course knowledge on Monday.
"NFA is a good team," Bagos said. "It's a good rivalry. It's definitely going to be closer than today."
• In the nine hole girls' individual match, Bacon Academy's Kate Bickhardt was the medalist with a 53 while Ledyard's Ashley Brannon (56) and NFA's Kim Postler (58) finished second and third, respectively.