Georgia Southern picked a good day to put it all together.
Trailing Chattanooga by five strokes with only nine holes remaining in Tuesday’s final round, the Eagles dropped 10 birdies on the back leg to storm ahead and take the 2011 Southern Conference Championship by five strokes Tuesday at the Country Club of South Carolina in Florence, S.C.
Without a tournament win on the season, GSU saved its best round of the year for the toughest stretch of the course, carding a 282 on Tuesday — the lowest round of any team on any day in the tournament.
“[I haven’t seen] anything like this,” said GSU coach Larry Mays. “Under that much pressure with a team that hasn’t really done it all year — we’ve been a good two-round team but not a good three-round team for most of the season — it’s just something special. It shows just how far we’ve come throughout the year.”
It was the third SoCon title for Georgia Southern, and the first since 2006.
It wasn’t the first time the Eagles have come from behind for a first-place finish, but it may have been the most dramatic.
“It’s a day that will go down in Georgia Southern golf lore, really,” said Mays. “The back nine is the harder nine, and for us to make 10 birdies — we played the last three holes straight into the wind — and to bring home a Southern Conference championship is really, really special.”
Chattanooga looked to be in control heading in the back nine, and the after the Eagles had lost a stroke from the beginning of the round, entering Tuesday four behind the Mocs.
“We knew we were chasing a good team,” said Mays. “Chattanooga’s been a good team all year. All we talked about was putting our head down into the grind all 18 holes.”
UNC Greensboro also made a run Tuesday, carding a 285 — the tournament’s second-lowest team round — to finish second. The Mocs finshed third with a 3-over 867.
Junior-college transfer Lewis Gruber (8-under 208) shot a 68 on Sunday and Tuesday, finishing one stroke behind the low-medalist — Davidson’s Richard Fountain (9-under 207).
“We had to pull [Gruber] out of the lineup in the spring because he wasn’t playing really well,” said Mays, “but it was certainly good to get him back out there.”
Senior Logan Blondell (4-under 212) finished third in the individual standings, firing off back-to-back 2-under rounds on Monday and Tuesday after a 72 on Sunday.
Hayden Anderson (5-over 221) improved his best round by five strokes on Tuesday, shooting a 70. Matt Deal (222) and Florian Sander (225) rounded out the scoring for GSU.
With the Southern Conference title, the Eagles earn an automatic bid to the NCAA Regionals. There are six schools slated to host the 2011 regionals beginning May 19 – Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Indiana, San Diego and Virginia Tech.
The Eagles will participate in the NCAA tournament for the ninth time in the last 11 seasons.
Matt Yogus can be reached at (912) 489-9408.