May 14, 2014 8:15:42 PM
Matthew Stevens - [email protected]
STARKVILLE -- Ji Eun Baik had a one-word answer to Mississippi State women's golf making its second consecutive appearance in the NCAA Championships.
"Expected," Eun Baik, one of the talented freshmen on the MSU squad, said Wednesday it wasn't a big celebration to watch the Bulldogs finish third in the NCAA Regional at Karstens Creek Golf Club and qualify for the national championship round.
Eun Baik and the emergence of Taiwan native Jessica Peng have been the freshmen backbone that has been supporting MSU's top player Ally McDonald that has allowed this team's success to occur.
The Bulldogs tied their finish from a season ago by placing third at 29-over-par 893 at the NCAA Central Regional at Karsten Creek Golf Club. MSU battled the windy conditions to fire the second-lowest score of the final round at 9-over-par 297 on Saturday, including a 3-under-par with eight birdies on the back-nine to secure its place in the Tulsa, Oklahoma., championships, which begin Tuesday.
"I believe in little karma situations," MSU coach Ginger Brown-Lemm said. "We have that good juju heading into another tournament in Oklahoma and I love it."
McDonald, a Fulton native, has been known around the state and nation as one of the best amateur players in the world. Posting the best round of the day at 2-under-par 70, McDonald turned in a 1-under-par 215 final score to earn fourth place at the event. McDonald led the Bulldogs surge up the leaderboard with three consecutive birdies on holes 13, 14 and 15 to claim her fifth top-5 scorecard of the campaign.
McDonald has enjoyed the competitiveness that Peng's scoring average has brought to her junior year. The idea of trying to maintain the label of being MSU's top player with Peng's scoring average actually being comparable to McDonald's freshman success has brought the junior's game to another level.
"They're mature freshmen and they've played in big tournaments before so all I can do is build their confidence," McDonald said. "There's no pressure for them. They're ready and prepared to handle the NCAA Championships."
Both Brown-Lemm and McDonald are convinced their success in the state of Oklahoma (advancing out of back-to-back NCAA Regionals in that state) actually means their games may benefit from the high wins and bent grass of the midwest area.
"I think we are all mature and developed players that can figure out a way to get the ball in the hole," McDonald said. "I think the big adjustment is the wind and its just about finding the right trajectory. We just need to go hit and then try to find it."
MSU is trying to not replicate its NCAA performance from the previous year as they finished last of the 24 qualified teams and were seen as a group that was simply happy to making an historic trip to the finals.
"The four round venue of the national championship was something where we had three very good rounds last year," Brown-Lemm said. "We learned a lot about chemistry and then the fourth round was when the weather changed gears and we let it bother us. We refuse to let one bad round at NCAAs last year define our seasons to come."
MSU was only one shot back of Alabama in their NCAA Regional five days ago and hope to put up competitive scores with some of the best programs in the country including Southern California, UCLA, Duke, Vanderbilt and Arizona State.
MSU's only senior Mary Langdon Gallagher moved up into a tie-for-second in school history with 116 career rounds played. Gallagher fired consecutive birdies on holes 8 and 9 to post a 232 tournament score. It will be her last NCAA experience this weekend and hopes to make a memory that will lasting for her and the program.
"Mary Langdon is somebody I've played a lot of golf with and it will be in the back our mind to play as well as we can for her because it'll be sad to see her go," McDonald said.
Follow Matt Stevens on Twitter @matthewcstevens.