ALPHARETTA – For two days, the Crabapple Course at the Capital City Golf Club got the best of almost everyone. With a spot in the NCAA Championships on the line Saturday, Georgia Southern struck back.
Three Eagles turned in even-par rounds as GSU came from five shots behind fifth-place Brigham Young to earn a fourth-place tie with Arizona State at 23-over par for the Southeast Regional and claim one of five spots in the 30-team championship field, which will compete June 1-6 in Chattanooga, Tenn. for the Division I national title.
“I told the guys (Friday) night that we had nothing to lose and to just go out there and play hard,” said GSU coach Larry Mays. “This was a very tough course and it’s incredible that all five of our guys were able to shoot 72 or better when we knew we had to do it. I can’t say that I’ve ever been more proud of a group of guys that I’ve coached.”
Senior Logan Blondell was masterful once again, following up a pair of 69s with a third-round 70 to finish the tournament at 2-under par – second among all individuals at the regional.
Spence Fulford also carded a 72, sticking a difficult approach 10 feet from the cup on his final hole with all of the pressure riding on him.
Senior Ryan Zabroske bounced back from two tough rounds to shoot even par for the day. After bogeys on Nos. 3 and 4, Zabroske bounced back with birdies on the next two holes and made par on the final two holes for his 70.
“I was a little too aggressive in the first two rounds,” said Zabroske. “I just tried to stay patient, make good shots, and take what the course would give me. I missed a short putt and hit a bad wedge on those bogeys. I just told myself that I had to bear down and make some birdies to help out the team.”
Freshman Florian Sander improved in each round, bouncing back from an opening 75 to shoot 72 on Friday and an even 70 Saturday.
Seemingly in a comfortable fifth-place slot late in the round, GSU had to watch as the Sun Devils made up six shots in just over a 30 minute span. A clutch birdie by Scott Pinckney on his final hole brought ASU into a three-way tie for fourth with GSU and BYU, but a playoff for the final two slots was avoided when the Cougars’ Robbie Fillmore bogeyed No. 17 and couldn’t convert a long birdie chip on his final hole.
“I figured that it would come down to the last hole,” said Mays. “We put ourselves in great position, but ASU made a heck of a comeback and we still had to wait to see if BYU could make that last chip. When you get to this level of play, every stroke is so important. We’ve ended up on the wrong side of the pack a number of times, but today, we came out on top.”
The back nine at Crabapple, which had consistently played as the more difficult half of the course for all teams, was again the starting point for the Eagles Saturday morning.
With just a handful of bogeys on the collective scorecard, the Eagles took advantage of the short 152-yard 13th hole, making a par and four birdies to get back to even on the day.
The putting game – which had turned on GSU in the first two rounds – finally started to work as Logan Blondell rolled in a sloping 35-footer for birdie on No. 15 to draw even on his round.
The Eagles finished the tough back nine at just 1-over and then kept up their stellar play on the front side.
It was an all-around effort for GSU as everyone hit their stride when the team needed it most.
“I’ve preached all year that we need to get four solid scores,” said Mays. “Everyone was finally able to throw a good round together at the same time and when it counted the most.”
Only a tough-luck double bogey on No. 16 kept Matt Deal (72) from breaking even on the day, but he turned in nine straight pars on the front nine for the second time in the tournament.
Heading to the championship with GSU and Arizona State are No. 1-ranked Oklahoma State, which won the regional with a score of 1-over while Clemson finished second at 3-over and Georgia Tech, which placed third at 5-over.
Mike Anthony can be reached at (912) 489-9404.