Courtesy of MAC Athletic Communication Departments
PULLMAN, Wash. -- The Ball State men’s golf team is on its way to the NCAA Nationals for the first time since 1986 after defeating San Diego State in a playoff Saturday for the fifth and final qualifying spot out of the Pullman Regional.
Alex Stinson’s up-and-down for birdie out of a greenside bunker on the par-5 18th hole sealed the playoff victory for Ball State, whose four counting scores on the hole bettered San Diego State’s by one.
With all the other regionals complete at the time of the playoff, Ball State became the 30th and final team to punch its ticket to Capital City Club in Atlanta for Nationals, May 28-June 2.
“It’s absolutely amazing,” Ball State coach Mike Fleck said. “Our motto the last few years has been to stay relevant, and we did that this week. Coming down those last few holes (in regulation), I kind of thought we had lost the opportunity, but we didn’t. It’s amazing what these guys have done and what they continue to do. And we’re still relevant.”
The celebration that followed Stinson’s birdie looked less likely nearly two hours earlier when the Cardinals finished a challenging final round in cold and windy conditions three shots behind San Diego State at 8-under par for the tournament. But the Aztecs were still on the course, and by the time they finished, the teams were tied for fifth.
A playoff ensued with the 10 golfers from the two teams going off in two groups from the 18th tee. The top four scores from each team would determine the winner.
All five San Diego State golfers had looks at birdie but could not make them and settled for pars. After Ball State’s Tony Lazzara made a sand save for par in the first group, Stinson’s playing partners, Tyler Merkel and McCormick Clouser, each made pars of their own in the second. Then Stinson, who was in the bunker in two and knocked his sand shot within a foot, tapped in for what was the only birdie.
“It’s something the guys talked about on the tee before the playoff hole," Fleck said. "They said it was really going to come down to the shots around the green, and it definitely did. San Diego State looked like they were in much better position, but our last three guys got it done. It was awesome to watch.”
Stinson’s playoff birdie capped an impressive week at Washington State’s Palouse Ridge Golf Club. In Saturday’s final round, the senior from Anderson, Ind., matched his career best for the second day in a row with a 3-under par 69 to lead Ball State to a final-round total of 291.
Stinson opened with back-to-back birdies for the second straight day on his way to a 33 on his first nine holes and then made all pars on his second nine. He was Ball State’s top individual for the tournament in a tie for 16th at 4-under par after a career-low 54-hole total of 212.
Merkel, who overcame a late triple bogey to post a 75 on Saturday, tied for 30th individually at 1-under par. Clouser ended the tournament in a tie for 37th with a career-best 54-hole total of even-par 216. He posted a 76 in the final round.
Joe Gasser fired a final-round 72 that put him in a tie for 41st at 1-over par, and Lazzara closed with a 75 to tie for 55th at 5-over. Ball State’s regional total of 864 as a team was the program’s best in a 54-hole NCAA event.
The Cardinals, which started the day in a tie for seventh in the 14-team field, were in and out of fifth position all day on a jumbled middle portion of the leaderboard. Ball State closed with all pars on its final hole of regulation, the ninth, except for an up-and-down birdie from Gasser that proved to be just what the team needed to get into the playoff.
Ball State will now be making its 13th all-time appearance at Nationals. Each of their previous appearances came before there were regional rounds to get through.
The Cardinals joined California, TCU, Saint Mary’s and Southern California in advancing from the Pullman Regional. The top-ranked Bears finished the tournament at 43-under par, while TCU climbed up on the final day to grab second place at 23-under. Saint Mary’s was third and USC was fourth.
USC’s Sam Smith and California’s Michael Weaver tied for individual medalist honors at 14-under.
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — No. 22 Kent State capped off a +28, 892 performance on Sunday, finishing fifth at the NCAA Fayetteville Regional and advancing to the NCAA Championships (May 28-June 2) for the fourth straight year. The Golden Flashes had to overcome a difficult layout at the par 72, 7,251-yard Blessings Golf Course, and were up to the challenge in claiming the region's final spot at nationals.
"I couldn't be more proud of the way our guys played this week," director of golf/head coach Herb Page said. "The players are probably not real happy, but what they won't tell you is how big their hearts were this week. This course was so tough. I've been coaching a long time, and I've never had a group like this that was so resilient and so mentally tough. They didn't have their best golf this week, but when it counted coming down the stretch, we played some great golf and hit some great shots."
Kent State entered the final round one stroke behind Oklahoma State for fourth and four strokes ahead of sixth-place Tulsa and SMU. Oklahoma State distanced itself with the second-lowest round of the day and Tulsa had its worst round of the week by 10 strokes. The Flashes held a lead of 5-9 strokes over SMU for the majority of the round, but stood at just two as the Flashes' top two golfers approached the 18th hole.
The fate of the team depended on a pair of juniors, 2013 Mid-American Conference Player of the Year and medalist Taylor Pendrith and 2012 Mid-American Conference Player of the Year and medalist Corey Conners.
Pendrith took it upon himself to end the drama on No. 18. After he narrowly missed the green on his second shot of the par 4, 512-yard hole, Pendrith chipped it from 40 feet away. Conners then had a three-stroke cushion to work with on the final hole. His par-putt from two feet clinched the NCAA bid for the Flashes, who were 13-over for the round and finished three strokes ahead of SMU.
Conners shot a 3-over, 75 for the second straight day and placed seventh with a total score of 217 (67-75-75). Through 12 holes, Conners was even par for the round and tied for the individual lead. He then bogeyed his next three holes before recording a critical birdie on the par 5, 530-yard No. 16.
Pendrith paced Kent State on the day with a 2-over, 74. It would have been an even better day if he had avoided mistakes that led to a double-bogey on No. 8 and a triple-bogey on No. 12.
"Taylor Pendrith really hit some big shots for us down the stretch today," Page said. "He had a fabolous up-and-down out of the bunker on No. 17 to save par and then the chip-in on No. 18 took some of the pressure off of Corey Conners."
The other counting scores on the day came from senior Kevin Miller and sophomore Nick Scott. Miller shot a 3-over, 75 for the second time this week, while Scott shot a 5-over, 77 and tied for the team lead with four birdies on the day. Junior Kyle Kmiecik rounded out the lineup with a 6-over, 78. Kmiecik's birdie on No. 16 was the team's only one of the day.
"Everybody came through for us," said Page. "Kevin Miler made two birdies on the back nine, Kmiecik eagled No. 16, and Nick Scott had a nice week for us."
Kent State advances to the NCAA Championships for the 17th time. This will be the fourth consecutive trip to nationals for the Flashes, which is the second-longest streak in program history (1992-96).
"People do not understand how tough it is just to get to the NCAA," said Page. "To do it four years in a row is a fabulous feat. We're among the elite golf programs in the country, and they proved it again."
No. 27 Illinois was the only team to post a team score under-par for the tournament, finishing with a 1-under, 863 to capture first place. No. 15 Arkansas, No. 3 Texas, and No. 11 Oklahoma State will join the Golden Flashes and Illini at City Capital Club Crabapple Course in Atlanta Ga. for the 2013 NCAA Championships. SMU's Mario Clemens captured the individual bid.