MCC’s Bialik one shot off D4 lead

Manistee Catholic Central senior Zack Bialik blasts out of the bunker on No. 16 at Michigan State’s Forest Akers East during Friday’s opening round of the Division 4 state finals. (Matt Wenzel/News Advocate)

EAST LANSING — Zack Bialik slept on the lead in the state finals two years ago.

That didn’t work out.

Maybe playing from behind will be the right formula for the Manistee Catholic Central senior in his last of five state finals appearances, though he’s not far back.

Bialik shot an even-par 71 at Michigan State’s Forest Akers East in the opening round of the Division 4 state finals on Friday and is alone in second place, one shot behind Saginaw Nouvel’s Nick Ludka.

“I played well,” Bialik said. “I struggled putting again — I missed a few putts I could have made — but I’m right where I need to be. I’m definitely in contention for tomorrow.”

Kalamazoo Hackett leads the 15-team competition by 10 shots after posting a score of 300 while Pentwater is in fifth at 330.

A few short misses and a trio of three-putts were about the only negatives for Bialik.

“He just had so many opportunities to do better,” said MCC coach Pete Solwold. “Coach-wise, that’s what I’m kind of looking at right now. We’ll work on that tomorrow: ‘let’s capitalize on those gifts that we get.’”

Bialik did that from the outset on Friday. Playing his first hole of the day, the par-5 third, Bialik hit driver, 5-wood to about 15 feet and sunk the putt for an eagle.

“I couldn’t ask for a better start,” he said. “But, to three-putt the next hole (for bogey), that kind of took everything away.”

Bialik birdied No. 6 and shot a 2-under 33 on the front before three bogeys and a birdie led to a 2-over 38 on the back.

“Tee to green he was great,” Solwold said. “If there was any fault in his game today, he didn’t have the luck or the sticking power with the putter.”

Bialik said he hit 17 greens, but struggled a bit with the speed. That could have been the result of playing 54 holes of the Michigan Open Championship earlier in the week at The Orchards Golf Club, then coming to a waterlogged Forest Akers.

“If you hit 16 greens, that’s a lot of birdie opportunities,” Bialik said. “I missed a lot of 10-, 15-foot putts that I would have liked to make for birdie, that I usually can make for birdie.”

Friday’s round was the first of 15 high school events this season that Bialik didn’t post the lowest score.

“I’m only one back,” he said. “A couple more made putts, a couple less mistakes and I’m in the lead or have a comfortable lead.”

Ludka holds a one-shot advantage over Bialik, but they have plenty of company at the top. Kalamazoo Hackett’s Colin Joseph is in third with a 72 and there’s four players tied at 73.

“I’ve got to worry about catching (Ludka), but I’ve also got to worry about other people who shot 72, 73,” Bialik said. “There’s plenty of people there that have a chance to win.”

Bialik shot an opening-round 69 as a sophomore at Grand Valley State and slept on the lead before finishing third, then placed fifth last year at Forest Akers West. Winning a state title was his goal from the start of the season and today’s his chance to fulfill it.

“I’m definitely excited and pumped to play well tomorrow,” said Bialik, who has a target score in mind. “If I play well, I think I could shoot 68. That would be a 139 and if someone beats me and I shoot a 139, then congrats to them, they deserve to win, but I don’t know how many times you’re going to lose shooting 139.”

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