Illinois upsets Cal, will face Alabama for NCAA title
by Emily Horos
ehoros@mdjonline.com
June 02, 2013 12:24 AM | 1298 views | 0 0 comments | 8 8 recommendations | email to a friend | print
In a battle between the two most recent individual champions, it was Illinois’ Thomas Pieters, above, who ultimately held the edge on Califorina’s Max Homa in a playoff during Saturday’s semifinal-round match. Pieters, the 2012 champ, beat recently crowned champ Homa on the second extra hole, vaulting the Illini to an upset of the nation’s top team. Illinois will face Alabama, which eased past Georgia Tech in Saturday’s other semifinal.
<Br>Staff photo by Kelly J. Huff
In a battle between the two most recent individual champions, it was Illinois’ Thomas Pieters, above, who ultimately held the edge on Califorina’s Max Homa in a playoff during Saturday’s semifinal-round match. Pieters, the 2012 champ, beat recently crowned champ Homa on the second extra hole, vaulting the Illini to an upset of the nation’s top team. Illinois will face Alabama, which eased past Georgia Tech in Saturday’s other semifinal.
Staff photo by Kelly J. Huff
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MILTON — California was the team to beat at the NCAA championship, and on Saturday, Illinois did just that — defeating the nation’s top-ranked team 3-2 in the semifinal round of match play at Capital City Club’s Crabapple Course.

Meanwhile, host Georgia Tech fell 3-0-2 to Alabama to put the Crimson Tide into the championship round for the second consecutive year.

Georgia Tech’s Anders Albertson, the former Etowah High School star, and Bo Andrews were tied with their opponents after 18 holes. Albertson was in the midst of a playoff when Alabama won the decisive match, so his and Andrews’ matches were ruled draws.

Shun Yat Hak led Alabama’s Trey Mullinax by as many as two holes on the front nine, but the Tide junior evened it on the turn and pulled away by winning holes 11, 12, 13 and 14. The match was clinched after the 15th hole, with Hak unable to gain any more ground.

Neither Seth Reeves nor Ollie Schniederjans were in their matches long.

After Reeves and Justin Thomas each parred the first hole, Thomas won the second and never trailed again before clinching the match on 17.

Schniederjans and Cory Whitsett were the final pairing to tee off.

Whitsett was hot from the start, preventing Schniederjans from continuing the momentum he had from Friday’s playoff victory, which clinched Georgia Tech its semifinal berth. Whitsett won three of the first four holes and held a four-hole advantage for much of the back nine. Schniederjans was able to win No. 15 to cut Whitsett’s lead to three, but the Alabama golfer closed the match on 16.

Georgia Tech coach Bruce Heppler said there was no shame in losing to Alabama.

“Obviously, they got to the finals last year, and they know how it feels to not win this,” Heppler said. “They made a commitment to get back to the finals, and they have a chance to win one (today). I felt our guys fought hard and had a great week. Everybody’s back, so we will see how badly they want to get back again.”

While today’s final will feature one of the nation’s top-ranked teams in No. 2 Alabama, California is going home. In its place, Illinois will see what it can do.

Cal entered the NCAA championship having won 11 of the 13 tournaments it played this season. Though Illinois needed two extra holes to get the job done Saturday, it still handed the Golden Bears just their third loss of the season.

The match came down to a pairing of champions — Cal’s Max Homa, who won the individual title Thursday, and Illinois’ Thomas Pieters, the 2012 champ.

Homa led for the majority of the round — taking as much as a three-hole advantage at the turn — but Pieters steadily climbed back. He tied it for good with a birdie on 14 and both players shot even-par for the rest of the round and the first hole of the playoff.

On the second playoff hole, Pieters recovered after driving into the rough and claimed the victory when Homa three-putted.

Homa said he would trade all of his individual titles to be able to compete for the team title.

“I’d throw them in a grinder,” he said. “Anyone here can take them if they wanted to. I just wanted that team one.”

Cal, which has five players ranked in the top 25 nationally, led by six strokes after the stroke play portion of the event, but the teams started anew when match play began Friday.

Coach Steve Desimone said his players performed well, and the loss was a testament to the challenge of match play and skill of Illinois.

Pieters didn’t expect to feel much pressure for today’s match with Alabama — after all, he didn’t feel pressure against Cal.

“I’m just having fun,” he said. “That’s why I came here and I love it. There is no pressure on us. Even (today), the pressure is on Alabama because they are the second-ranked team in the nation and we are what, 26th? That says it all, right?”

When Pieters won the individual title last season, the Illini didn’t even make it to match play. He said it’s a much better feeling achieving success as a part of a team.

“It’s been so much fun,” said the junior from Belgium. “Being here with the team is just amazing. We have been together for the whole year and to get this far is crazy.”

Alabama and Illinois will tee off at 8 a.m. Tee times were moved up two hours by tournament organizers with the anticipation of inclement weather later in the day.
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