Ben Harden just keeps taking that next step.

The Mountain Pointe senior won the Division I boys golf individual state title on Saturday with a clean and impressive final round.

He shot a 67 to back his opening round of 71 to give him the title by three shots over Red Mountain's J.T. Rodenkirch and Chaparral’s Jake DeForest. Tied for fourth was Desert Ridge’s TJ Kathineberg and Phoenix Sandra Day O’Connor’s Eric Ghim at 142.

For Harden, it was the end of a journey that started when he was a freshman. Each year he has improved dramatically. As a sophomore he finished a pedestrian 76th in the state championships. Last year, he improved to a tie for 38th. Now, he’s a champion.

Harden had five birdies and no bogeys on the day playing steady golf. He final round 67 equaled the best round of the tournament.

“I don’t want to say I’m shocked, but I’m better, right now, than I thought I was going to be,” Harden said. “I’ve just gotten better and better since my freshman year and this year I’ve kind of peaked and played really good.”

As for the team championship, Desert Vista thought this was the year it would finally end the odd streak of four consecutive runner-up finishes.

It did but but in a positive way.

The Thunder's remarkable string of runner-up finishes came to an end when the Thunder finished fifth.

Red Mountain coach Rich Hamilton needs to work on his breathing techniques. Watching his team hang on for another state championship was tough on the coach.

“I don’t think I took a breath for an hour,” Hamilton said.

You’d think this would be a breeze for Hamilton considering the success he’s had in the golf program, and in winning state championships as the Lions’ girls softball coach.

But you would be wrong.

Saturday was stressful, and, eventually, sweet for the Lions at Aguila Golf Course, as they watched their first-round lead dwindle to one shot at one point.

In the end, the Lions hung on to win the state title, the school’s ninth. They won by three shots over rival-Mountain View, last year’s champions.

Hamilton took third place, five shots back.

Desert Vista’s remarkable string of runner-up finishes came to an end when the Thunder finished fifth. Desert Vista had finished second four-straight years going into the finals and is still looking for its first state title.

Red Mountain was in position to win this title because of Friday’s first round. The Lions were at even-par 288 after day one. They shot 298 Saturday to finish the 36-hole tournament at 10-over-par 586.

“We struggled at the beginning of the year and didn’t play as well as we’re capable,” Hamilton said. “We continually got better and better.”

The Lions peaked on Friday when Hamilton said they had their best day of the year.

The Toros cut the lead to one shot on the back nine Saturday, but could not take the lead. Red Mountain got solid tournaments out of Rodenkirch with rounds of 69 and 72. He finished tied for second in the individual portion of the tournament. Jake Guess was at 149 for the tournament, as was teammate Brady Dominguez.

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