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Braden Gillespie and Gabby Diaz beat former champions to win Schooldays Golf

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The 2024 Tennessean/Metro Parks Schooldays Golf Tournament began Wednesday with three former champions in the field and ended Friday with two new ones.

Braden Gillespie and Gabby Diaz emerged as boys and girls champions, respectively, after 2021 boys champion Carter Stroup, 2022 champion Lane Walton and 2023 girls champion Ainsley Moore were eliminated from the tournament, which was part of the Sneds Tour this year at the McCabe Course.

Gillespie, 16, of Friendship Christian School, defeated Stroup 1-0 in Friday's match play semifinals and then defeated 15-year-old Canon Wise of Clarksville 5-4 in the boys' final.

Diaz, 17, of Page, defeated Moore 2 and 1 in the girls quarterfinals and then defeated Poppy Pewitt, 14, of Dickson, 3 and 2 in the girls final.

Defeating a former champion and narrowly missing the cut for the 2023 Match Play tournaments made the victory especially sweet for Gillespie.

“I wanted to prove something,” said Gillespie, who missed the cut for the 2023 Match Play by one stroke. “I felt like an underdog with two former champions competing against each other. I wanted to make the cut this year and go far. I just wanted to prove to myself that I could do it.”

As soon as Gillespie turned his phone back on after the win, he received a call from Walton, who is also from Friendship Christian.

“He was happy for me, I knew that,” Gillespie said. “I wanted to call him when it was over, but he called me first to congratulate me.”

STROUP and DIAZ EYE SCHOOLDAYS TITLE: Carter Stroup, 2021 Schooldays champion, in the semifinals of match play; Gabby Diaz in the final

Walton, who finished runner-up to Laird Williams in 2023, advanced to match play on Thursday but lost a two-on-two tie to Blane Borum in the first round.

The win over Stroup, who has now lost in the semifinals three years in a row, kept Gillespie's momentum going for the championship, especially given the manner in which he won. Gillespie had a 4-up lead before Stroup won four consecutive holes on holes 14 through 17 to tie the match. Gillespie recovered and finished off Stroup by winning the 18th hole with a birdie.

“I was really exhausted after he won those four holes and gained momentum, then I won the last hole,” Gillespie said. “I kept the ball to about three feet and made the putt.”

This win restored Gillespie's confidence and he was able to control the championship match against Wise before knocking him out in 14th place.

“I was seeded 11th, so my chances of making it to the finals weren't very high,” said Wise, who shot 5 strokes over 74 in the qualifying round. “But I'm glad I made it, and I'm glad I got to play against Braden, who is one of my good friends.”

Wise needed a one-hole playoff to win his semifinal match against Cameron Herring. The extra hole was the only one where Wise led, and he said the emotions surrounding that match took their toll in the championship match.

“That was a lot for me,” said Wise, who was four holes behind at one point in the semifinals.

Tripp Goodrich, 14, of Brentwood, son of 1999 Schooldays winner Warren Goodrich, defeated 13-year-old Christian Trailov of Nashville in the 12-14 year-old boys championship.

Diaz and Pewitt were not among the favorites for the championship. Diaz finished fifth in the qualifying round with a 6-over 76 and Pewitt finished seventh with a 7-over 7. Only eight girls qualified for match play.

Diaz eliminated Moore in Thursday's quarterfinals and then 2021 runner-up Alex Crews, the qualifying round medalist (70), 3 and 1 in the semifinals.

On her way to winning the title, Diaz controlled each of her matches.

“In all my matches, I got up and never fell again,” Diaz said. “Today we tied, but I was never down. I felt like I had everything under control, but there was definitely no reason for me to overestimate myself. I mean, it was tough, even though I was on top the whole time.”

It was Diaz's first year at Schooldays and she said she will return next year, especially since the tournament is now part of the Sneds Tour.

“I just wanted to experiment with something other than stroke play,” she said. “I haven't played match play in a couple of years. It's definitely a different dynamic and it's something that anyone could get some practice in, especially because in college golf you play some tournaments that are match play. I'm also really happy that it's on the Sneds Tour now and I get (Tennessee) Junior Cup points by playing in it.”

Reach Mike Organ at 615-259-8021 or @MikeOrganWriter.