May 24, 2018 10:05:13 AM
STILLWATER, Okla. -- In a match that required a 19th hole for the final paring, the Alabama women's golf team lost to Arizona 3-2 in the title match of the NCAA Championships at the par-72, 6,328-yard Karsten Creek Golf Club.
With the team score tied at 2, senior Lakareber Abe just missed an eagle on the par-5 18th before tapping in for birdie to even her match and force a playoff with Arizona's No. 1 player, Haley Moore. The duo returned to the 18th tee to open the playoff and Moore converted a birdie putt to clinch the match.
Three days after the Wildcats were one putt away from being eliminated, Moore made a 4-foot putt on the par-5 18th to finally finish off Abe in the last match. Abe putted first and missed from about the same distance, with her ball going by on the left.
"It means so much. It is actually like a dream," Moore said. "I never would have thought that it would be like this. I'm just so happy right now and for my team, and I did this for them."
Abe birdied the 18th in regulation to force overtime.
"I kind of screwed up on 17 and then came to 18 and I knew I was going to have to make a birdie or eagle because Hayley had been outdriving me all day," Abe said. "Just to hit a good drive and a good 3-wood and to have a chance to play 19 holes is the best feeling."
Arizona, also the 1996 and 2000 winner, became the first No. 8 seed to get past the quarterfinals.
"Arizona is my home. It's where I went to school" said coach Laura Ianello, a member of the 2000 title team. "It needed to be back home. I'm so proud I got to be the coach to bring it back."
The title was decided in a playoff for the third time in four years. The Wildcats are the fourth straight Pac-10 winner, following Stanford, Washington and Arizona State last year.
Arizona appeared to have blown its chances in the final round of stroke play Monday, going from third to outside the top eight until Bianca Pagdanganan eagled the final hole to send the Wildcats into a playoff against Baylor for the eighth and final spot in match play. Arizona won on the second extra hole, and went on to beat UCLA in the quarterfinals and Stanford in the semifinals.
"It was an awesome year," Alabama coach Mic Potter said. "When you get into the final eight, you just never know. We were pretty dominant (Tuesday), but Arizona made that eagle in stroke play to force a playoff Monday. Then they won that playoff and they just rode that momentum all the way to the championship. They're a very good team, and they just kept getting better throughout the tournament."
Junior Cheyenne Knight and sophomore Kristen Gillman closed out 4-and-2 and 4-and-3 decisions to tie the match at 2. Knight was 1-down at the turn before rallying to win four of the next five holes to clinch her match against Bianca Pagdanganan. Gillman led her match from the start before closing out Gigi Stoll with a par on 15.
Arizona evened the score with a 4-and-3 win by You-Sang Hou against Lauren Stephenson and a 1-up decision by Sandra Nordaas against freshman Angelica Moresco to set the stage for the final match.
The match play championship appearance was the first for Alabama since the NCAA adopted the format in 2015. Alabama was seeking its second national championship under Potter after capturing the school's first women's golf title in 2012. Alabama is one of only three Southeastern Conference schools to have won an NCAA women's golf championship.
n In related news, Stephenson won the Golfstat Cup on Wednesday as announced by the Women's Golf Coaches Association (WGCA).
The Golfstat Cup is presented to the collegiate golfer who posts the best scoring average in relation to par each season. Stephenson is Alabama's first Golfstat Cup winner since the award's inception in 1996.
Stephenson completed the stroke play portion of the season Monday at the NCAA Championships and finished with a season scoring average of 69.76 to set a new Alabama school record. She recorded 19 rounds in the 60s and 26 rounds of par or better in 33 round played this season, both of which lead the team.
This summer, Stephenson will compete for the United States in the Palmer Cup and Curtis Cup and participate in the U.S. Women's Amateur.
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