MIRAMAR BEACH, Fla. (4/25/17) – The Arkansas State men’s golf team exited the Sun Belt Conference Championships in the match play semifinals for the second consecutive season Tuesday, dropping a tightly-contested 3-2 decision versus Georgia Southern at the Raven Golf Club.
One of just four teams advancing to match play, the Red Wolves completed stroke play yesterday with a 54-hole 872 to officially finish the tournament tied for third. It marked the first time in school history the Red Wolves placed among the top three teams in back-to-back years, while they also tied their second-best finish ever at the tourney. A-State claimed runner-up honors in 1999 and took third place in both 2016 and 1995.
One year after falling 3-1 to eventual tournament-champion Troy in its initial match-play contest, Arkansas State caught a Georgia Southern team that finished second in stroke play after posting a combined 864 score. The two squads split the first four matches completed, and it took 17 holes before the deciding match went in the Eagles' favor.
“We’re obviously disappointed we couldn’t pull out the win in the semifinals,” said A-State head coach Mike Hagen. “I felt good about the way our guys were playing heading into today, but Georgia Southern is a good team and this was a great experience for us advancing to the semifinals each of the first two years of match play in the Sun Belt.
“We’ll have some guys returning next season who have been in the semifinals two years in a row, and we’ll have two others who have now gained that experience. Our expectations are to twin championships and go to the postseason, and this gives us something to build on.”
A-State took an early 2-0 advantage with wins by redshirt freshman Matt Cole and sophomore Joel Wendin. Cole and Wendin both picked up five-hole victories over Cody O’Toole and Brett Barron, respectively.
“Matt came out and settled into his match very nicely I felt, and Joel came out on fire and just played great golf,” said Hagen. “Both those guys had the hot start for us and were playing with a lot of confidence, so that was good to see.”
Georgia Southern was able to come back and even the score as Archer Price defeated junior Andrew Huseman by a 5-hole margin, while Jack Storey’s match versus freshman Zan Luka Stirn was ended with a four-hole advantage and just two left to play.
The lone remaining match featured a pair of 2016 All-Sun Belt Conference selections in A-State’s Tanner Napier and Georgia Southern’s Steven Fisk. With less than one stroke separating their season scoring average, Napier took Fisk all the way to the 17th hole before falling by a two-hole margin.
“Both of those guys in that final match really played well,” said Hagen. “Tanner was 4-under and Fisk was 6-under, so it was very competitive and there was some unbelievable golf being played there.”
Georgia Southern advanced to the championship match against Georgia State, which also won its semifinals outing against Troy.
A-State, which holds a 106-42-5 record and a No. 90 national ranking by GolfStat.com this year, as well as nine tournament titles over the last two seasons, must now wait to see if it receives an at-large bid to an NCAA Regional. The NCAA Regional selections will be announced next week on the Golf Channel.