---- — By Anthony Mitchell
For The Daily Item
SHAMOKIN DAM -- Shikellamy may have a target on its back as the defending Heartland Athletic Conference champ on the links.
If there is one, it didn't seem to faze the Braves in the HAC opener at Susquehanna Valley Country Club on Thursday. The Braves (5-0) paced the field with a 328, beating out their cross-river rival, Selinsgrove, by 25 strokes.
Midd-West's foursome brought home third with a 77 while Williamsport finished with a 380. Mifflinburg and Loyalsock/Montour rounded out the field with a 444 and 455, respectively.
C.J. Tyler and Dakota Portzline helped to drive the Braves to a victory by each carding a four-over par 74 on the course to tie for first overall.
"I definitely could have played better but it wasn't too bad," C.J. Tyler said. "I could have made up a few shots here and there but overall it was okay."
Portzline was steady out of the gate before finding his groove midway through his round.
On holes eight through 10, Portzline found the bottom of the cup for birdie on each hole, with the pars on each running the gamut from three to five, the par-5 10th being the longest hole of the day.
Portzline birdied another par 5 on the 17th for a 2-under day on the three par-5 holes. The Braves' number two was one-over through his first 10 holes.
"I was a little nervous going into (the round)," Portzline said. "But, I kept it together and then made three birdies in a row so that sort of got things back together."
Braves head coach Ernie Tyler explained that he was pleased to see Portzline have a solid round.
"It's really neat to see Dakota playing like that," Ernie Tyler said. "He's playing well. And he's usually very steady. He's a good player."
Tyler and Portzline occupying the top two spots was a repeat of last year's season opener in which Tyler shot a 65 to beat out Portzline who carded a 74.
For Tyler, the back nine represented a shift in his play. The senior and two-time defending District 4 champion started off with a 37 on the front nine, making the turn at three-over par with four bogies and a birdie.
The lefty parred four straight holes, including barely missing a birdie chance on the 12th hole, but made the most of his opportunity on a difficult 14th hole.
With the hole sloping uphill, forcing players to hit a tougher shot to reach the green, Tyler and his playing partners, Selinsgrove's Colin Rice and Williamsport's Marc McClain, each reached the green with a chance to at least make par.
Tyler reached the green in two shots while Rice used a solid drive off the tee that reached the fairway to tap in for par minutes later. McClain was able to sink a putt for a bogey on the hole.
"(The birdie) definitely helped," Tyler said. "It kind of got me going. I was waiting for that."
"When you have a few bad holes, especially when it's a team event, you gotta just battle back and try to get it going," Tyler added. "That's what I was able to do."
Tyler finished his round with three straight pars. On a hole with a par of four or five, Tyler shot one-under par, driving well on the longer holes.
With Tyler and Portzline leading the way, the Braves were able to start their season on the right foot. D.J. Clark shot an 89 and Raven Fatool carded a 91 to round out the Braves' foursome.
"I'm just happy with all the kids," Ernie Tyler said. "It was their first time to play here and they went out and played, did a nice job."
Rice carded an 80 on the day to finish in third place. Rice finished his round in a flurry, birdieing 17 and 18. Rice's teammate, Logan Sears finished in fourth with an 84. Aidan Edmiston rounded out the top five with an 85.