For The Herald Bulletin
PULLMAN, Wash. —
The Ball State men’s golf team moved up three spots on the leaderboard Friday with the third-best second round at the NCAA Pullman Regional.
The Cardinals posted a team score of 4-under-par 284, led by former Liberty Christian star Alex Stinson’s 69 at the par-72 Palouse Ridge Golf Club. With one round to play, they have positioned themselves for a run at one of the top-five spots and a trip to the NCAA Nationals.
Ball State started the day in 10th place and seven strokes out of fifth but ended it in a tie for seventh with Virginia Tech, two shots out of the final qualifying spot.
The Cardinals are 11-under for the tournament and find themselves in a pack of teams in the middle of the race. Teams four through eight (TCU, San Diego State, Pacific, Ball State and Virginia Tech) in the field of 14 are all within four shots of each other.
“I’m excited about the second round we turned in,” Ball State coach Mike Fleck said. “It puts us in the position where we are playing for something tomorrow. I’m looking forward to seeing what these guys can do in the last round.”
California extended its lead Friday with a round of 276. The top-ranked Bears are 35-under for the tournament, followed by Southern California in at 24-under and Saint Mary’s at 19-under.
USC’s Sam Smith, who opened the tournament with a course-record 62, followed that with a 64 on Friday and will enter Saturday’s final round atop the individual leaderboard by seven strokes at 18-under.
Tyler Merkel and McCormick Clouser are Ball State’s top individuals in a tie for 16th place at 4-under through 36 holes. Merkel birdied two of his final three holes Friday to post a second-round 70, while Clouser backed up Thursday’s 68 with an even-par round of 72.
Stinson sparked the Cardinals’ climb up the leaderboard by birdieing his opening two holes of the day. With Ball State starting on the back nine, Stinson made the turn in 4-under 32 and had his round to 5-under until a double bogey at the 18th.
Still, his round of 69 matched his career best and moved him 30 spots up the leaderboard into a tie for 34th at 1-under for the tournament. It also gave him a tie for second on Ball State’s list of all-time NCAA rounds, behind Clouser’s record of 68 on Thursday.
Joe Gasser, whose second-round 73 was highlighted by an eagle on his ninth hole of the day, is tied for 43rd at 1-over par.
Tony Lazzara rebounded from a triple bogey on his sixth hole Friday to get his round back to even at one point on the back nine. He was the Cardinals’ non-counter on the day at 75 and is tied for 49th at 2-over through two rounds.
After an opening day that featured record-setting scores, the course fought back a little bit Friday. Tougher hole locations and windier conditions led to a scoring average for the field that was nearly three shots higher than the 70.47 on day one.
“You kind of knew early on with the wind it was going to be tougher, and you knew the hole locations were going to be more challenging,” Fleck said. “I’m proud of our guys. They managed both of those well today to put up a competitive team score.”
Ball State handled the challenges as well as any team and will enter the final round with its hopes alive for advancing. The Cardinals will start the final round at 7:30 a.m. today, playing with Virginia Tech and BYU. The Cardinals will go off the 10th tee for the third day in a row.