Evan Cox had the kind of season that high school golfers usually only dream about.
The Ashland junior racked up medalist honors at several invitationals, shot 2-under par in winning the Region 12 Tournament at Hidden Cove and finished sixth on the state points list to earn All-State recognition.
“Outstanding in every way,” is how Tomcats coach Bob Blankenship summed it. “Evan was so focused. Looking back, it was one of those years for a golfer that’s hard to imagine.”
Hence the latest award for Cox — Player of the Year on the 2012 Boys All-Area Golf Team.
“It’s a big honor, really,” he said Thursday. “My sophomore season was OK, nothing special. This year, it seemed like everything came together. I surprised myself, and I’m pretty sure I surprised a lot of other people with how I played.”
Ashland graduated three key members from the 2011 squad that tied for sixth at the State Tournament, but Cox and senior Nick Blankenship led the Tomcats to a third consecutive region championship.
“I don’t think many people expected us to be there, and I was one of them,” Ashland’s coach said. “Going into the season, I was hoping to get second.”
Ashland went on to place 12th at the state level. Accordingly, area coaches again selected Blankenship as Coach of the Year.
“To win the region and advance to the second day at state with three guys that had not played there, it was a great year,” he said. “The kids progressed faster than I thought we would.”
In addition to Cox and Nick Blankenship, the Tomcats landed junior Thomas Hall and sophomore Logan Jones on the All-Area Team.
At the region tournament, Blankenship shot 76, Jones 78 and Hall 81 as Ashland posted a 16-stroke victory that followed a handful of invitational titles.
“We surprised a bunch of people this season,” Cox said. “I think a lot of them thought after losing three of our top five players we would come back and be a mediocre team.”
Cox set the tone in Ashland’s season opener by shooting 69 to lead the team to first place in the Lewis County Invitational. He followed up with a playoff victory at the Greenup County Invitational for the winning Tomcats.
“It was an exciting year,” Cox said. “I had the confidence I could go out and play my best. Having my team right there, it helped calm me down.”
Bob Blankenship credited part of Ashland’s success to its players competing in the Eastern Kentucky Junior Golf Association’s Walmart Tour during the summer months.
“I think we’ve had the biggest participation of any school and it’s showing,” Blankenship said. “Tom Cooksey and his wife Pat do a lot of good things with the EKJGA. And Larry Bailey with our middle school has done an excellent job.”
Under Blankenship’s guidance, Ashland has won three consecutive region championships after a runner-up finish started the program rolling.
With four of the top five players back, the Tomcats are looking forward to continued success.
“Logan, Thomas and Tate (Justus, a freshman) have to step up, and me as well,” Cox said. “I want to keep improving.”
Russell, the Region 12 runner-up, had three players chosen — senior Sam McGuire and juniors Bobby Thomas and Johnny McGuire.
Sam McGuire posted a season stroke average of 77 and has an offer from University of Pikeville, according to coach Perry Yates. Thomas was runner-up at the region tournament for the second year in a row, finishing one shot behind Cox.
Joining Cox, Blankenship, Thomas and Sam McGuire as All-Area repeaters are West Carter’s Kyle Brown and Rowan County’s Kyler Ball.
Brown shot 73 at the region tournament to place third individually.
Other All-Area selections included Elliott County freshman Ryan Gillum, Paintsville’s Tanner Carroll, Greenup County’s Kadin Ashley and Boyd County’s Drew Burke.
Carroll, a senior, tied for 21st at the State Tournament with a two-round score of 155. Sam McGuire shot 156, Cox 157 and Blankenship 159.