Copyright 2016; Wilmington University. All rights reserved. Photo of the team after it was determined they were in the Top 8.
DENVER, Colo. - - It came down to a pair of final strokes on different holes and the ball rolled in favor of the Wilmington University golf team, as they slide into the NCAA Division II Match Play Championship after finishing eighth overall after three rounds at the Green Valley Ranch Golf Club on Thursday.
Senior Andreas Lunding's birdie putt on the ninth green from six feet out fell for the Wildcats while the team quickly ran over to catch the finish at the 18th green. The Wildcats then witnessed Central Oklahoma's final golfer miss his six-foot par putt to tie the Wildcats and force a playoff.
It was a stressful day for the Wildcats, as they had their worst round of the three days, shooting a 291 to finish 289-286-291 for a three-day score of 866 (+2) for the tournament. Regardless, the Wildcats became the first team from the East Region to finish in the Top 8 after stroke play and reach the Match Play event.
"I'm proud of the guys," aid head coach Harry Jennings. "They started off a little rough, but they picked themselves up and made a few birdies to get back under par. The wind picked up towards the end and we misclubbed a few shots and then it was just a waiting game."
Sophomore Joey Russo came out red hot on the back nine, hitting four straight birdies to get to three under par after his first five holes of the day. He made the turn with a 34 (-2) on the back. A birdie on one again got him to three under par, but a bogey on six put him at his final score of 70 (-2). He finished in a tie for 27th overall, shooting a 72-74-70 for a 216 overall.
Lunding's birdie on the ninth and final green may have saved the Wildcats, but the senior was two under par after his first 10 holes. Lunding then shot a triple bogey seven on the third hole before recovering with a birdie on the sixth. Another double bogey on eight put the Wildcats in jeopardy before Lunding got up and down on the ninth, sinking the birdie putt in front of a large gathering on the hole. He finished in a team best tied for 12th overall, shooting a 70-68-73 for a 211 (-5) for the tournament.
Freddy Braun birdied to get back to even par on the 12th but another bogey on 15 put the junior at one over par after the back nine. Braun hit eight straight pars before a bogey on six put him at one over on the front as well, finishing with a 74 (+2). He shot a 67-73-74 for a 214 (-2) for the tournament and in a tie for 20th overall.
Junior Sam Clark also shot a 74 (=2) on Thursday, hitting 16 pars and only two bogeys on the afternoon. He bogeyed the par four 14th before finishing the afternoon with a bogey on the par five fifth. Clark shot an 82-71-74 for a 227 (+11) for the tournament, placing in a tie for 81st overall.
Freshman Ryan Rucinski hit birdies on holes 12 and 15, but a double bogey and two bogeys on the back put the freshman in a hole (+2) after the back nine. He birdied the par three fifth, but bogeys on three and nine put the freshman at 75 (+3) for the day. He shot an 80-74-75 for a three round score of 229 (+13) and in a tie for 90th overall.
"We're just going to go out there (tomorrow) and fire at the wicket. These guys can hit it far and it's going to be exciting. Anything can happen as far as I'm concerned; we have a clean slate."
The Wildcats pair up with top seed and nationally No. 2 St. Leo in the NCAA Division II National Tournament Match Play Quarterfinals on Friday. The Lions blew away the field, finishing at 26 under par to win by 12 strokes.
The Wildcats and Lions will tee up starting at 7:35 on Friday, with a team needing to win three pairings to move on. Each pairing will play 18 holes, and the student-athlete with the lower score will earn a point for their team.