Up against St. Mary's Margaret Butts and Ellie Roof, as well as McCracken County's Adeline Edwards, Crittenden County's Lauren Gilchrist needed to stay composed.

A front-nine 33 and career-tying best 74 at Paxton Park Golf Course did just the trick on Tuesday, allowing the Marion native to wrangle in title honors at the 46th Annual Mark Mullen Memorial.

Birdies on No. 2 (288 yards), No. 4 (273 yards) and No. 8 (141 yards) helped offset a bogey on No. 6 (319 yards), and she took a four-stroke lead into the turn.

A scorching heat and five bogeys on the back-nine (including an impressive save on No. 18) weren't enough to relinquish the lead, and Gilchrist credited a stronger mental approach as the main reason she came through.

"I've just got to keep my mental game even," Gilchrist said. "My golf game is fine. It's just that whenever I get frustrated or too excited sometimes, it can mess with (my) head. I've just got to keep it even, and that's what I did today.

"I had three birdies on the front, and I didn't let it get to me. I didn't get too excited. And the back was still OK. But I had a few holes where I only had an OK drive. But then I got back on the green. My regulation was pretty good today."

Perhaps the more impressive part of Gilchrist's win was that Butts (77), Edwards (77) and Roof (79) really pushed her to the brink behind some of their best-ever rounds -- especially from Roof, who had never broken 80 in a competition until Tuesday afternoon.

The foursome also provided a glimpse into what this year's race of the First Region individual crown might look like, which alongside the likes of McCracken County's Jessica Stephens, Marshall County's entire squadron and Graves County's Ellie West should be an absolute battle when it comes time at Paxton Park.

"I've been to the state tournament the past three seasons, and I'm the only girl playing in Crittenden County," she said. "I'm very driven right now. I want to go to state for all four years of high school."

Gilchrist especially enjoyed Tuesday's round because it helped her forget the 90 she posted on Monday at Bowling Green Country Club -- the annual site of the KHSAA State Tournament and also the recent stop for the Kentucky Junior PGA.

And two weeks ago, she practiced at Paxton Park and shot an 82.

Obviously, a 74 is much more desirable.

"I just wanted to redeem myself and do better," she said with a laugh. "I've been going through a rough patch, and I think today helped me get out of it."

Kirkham, McNeill talk shop

For a second-straight season, McCracken County's Connor Kirkham took home the top overall award at the 46th Annual Mark Mullen Memorial, this after again carding a 76 at Paxton Park Golf Course, just as he did last season.

His fellow senior teammate, Walker McNeill, wasn't far behind and carded a 78 for his second-straight sub-80 round in as many days.

But more importantly, Kirkham and McNeill are very much looking forward to what could be a special season for Mustang golf, which is still without an officially named head coach for the 2019 season.

The duo is expecting guys like Garrett Rikel and Davis Vessels to round out what should be a First Region contending quartet, with the defending-champion Marshals of Marshall County likely getting the final say.

"We're all playing really well right now," Kirkham said. "We'll have our days where we'll play good and we'll play bad. We'll win some and we'll lose some. But we're playing good enough to win a bunch of tournaments that we'll be playing in. And … the newer coach has said something about … he's going to try and set us up where we'll be playing some extra tournaments this year. Moreso than the last couple of years.

"We've got a good team, and I'm looking forward to it. We've got a good setup right now. We're all shooting mid-to-low 70s. Better than last year. Everyone is improving."

McNeill, who tapped in back-to-back birdies on Nos. 2 and 3, is just glad to be back in the First Region fold after having to sit this past season following a transfer from Paducah Tilghman.

And after posting a sub-80 round after hitting a sub-80 round on Monday at Drake Creek, he's thrilled with the noticeable improvement.

"I just try to practice every day and do something -- whether it's the same thing or different things -- to try and get better every day," he said.

"It's been tough sitting out for a year, but all the practice has been paying off.

"It's encouraging, and it makes you just want to keep working harder. It shows progress, and it just makes you want to get better."

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