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Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Stanford, Southern Cal closing in on berths in NCAA Championship match

   You think Mother Nature was finished tormenting the 2017 NCAA Championship? Not a chance.
   With two tense semifinals well under way, a thunderstorm hit Rich Harvest Farms in Sugar Grove, Ill. Tuesday afternoon. The players were able to return to the course,  but neither finalist is determined yet.
   Stanford, No. 1 in the latest Golfstat rankings, is so close to a third straight trip to the final match, the Cardinal can taste it. But it is not over yet.
   Stanford has a 2-1 lead over Pac-12 rival Arizona State, ranked seventh, and Albane Valenzuela, a freshman from Switzerland, is in the fairway on the 18th hole of the 6,343-yard, par-72 Rich Harvest Farms layout with a 1-up lead on the Sun Devils’ Monica Vaughn, a senior from Reedsport, Ore. who claimed the individual title Monday.
   The fifth match between Stanford’s Madie Chou, a freshman from Santa Ana, Calif., and Arizona State’s Linnea Strom, a sophomore from Sweden and the No. 11 player in the Women’s World Amateur Golf Ranking, is all square through 16. Matches will continue to extra holes if necessary to determine a winner.
   This match had top 20 players in the Women’s World Amateur Golf Ranking all over the place. The Valenzuela-Vaughn match pitted Nos. 3 and 15, respectively.
   Arizona State’s Olivia Mehaffey, a freshman from Ireland who is No. 9 in the WAGR, got a point for the Sun Devils with a hard-fought 2 and 1 victory over Andrea Lee, a freshman from Hermosa Beach, Calif. who is No. 8 in the WAGR.
   Stanford got two points from its two veterans of its runs to the final match in 2015 and 2016, the first two years the NCAA incorporated match play into the championship.
   Casey Danielson, a senior from Osceola, Wis., claimed a 3 and 2 win over Sophia Zeeb, a junior from Germany, and Shannon Aubert, a junior from Stuart, Fla., earned a 4 and 3 victory over Roberta Liti, a junior from Italy.
   It looks like it will be an all-Pac-12 final with No. 6 Southern California leading in four matches against No. 12 Northwestern in the other semifinal. But this one is far from over.
   Southern Cal’s Robynn Ree, a sophomore from Redondo Beach, Calif., holds a 1-up lead over Hannah Kim, a junior from Chula Vista, Calif., through 14 holes, Muni He, a freshman from San Diego, has a 2-up lead on Northwestern’s Kacie Komoto, a senior from Honolulu, Hawaii, through 13 holes, Southern Cal’s Gabriella Then, a senior from Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., leads Janet Mao, a sophomore from Johns Creek, Ga., 1-up through 12, and Tiffany Chan, a senior from Hong Kong, leads Northwestern’s Stephanie Lau, a sophomore from Fullerton, Calif., 1-up through 11.
   Northwestern’s Sarah Cho, a junior from San Diego, leads Victoria Morgan, a redshirt senior from Pasadena, Calif., 1-up through 15.
   Despite the brutal conditions that have plagued the tournament since Day 1’s rain and wind-chills in the high 30s, Southern California completed the group of three Pac-12 teams out of the four semifinalists with a hard-fought 3.5-1.5 victory over No. 25 Ohio State in the last of the morning quarterfinal matches.
   Ree pulled out a 1-up decision over the Buckeyes’ Rio Watanabe, a redshirt junior from Japan, and Chan edged Katja Pogacar, a senior from Slovenia, 1-up to account for two key points.
   Ohio State’s Jaclyn Lee, a sophomore from Canada, battled Then on even terms through 19 holes before the match was called when the Trojans won their third point.
   Southern Cal also got a full point from Morgan, who claimed a 4 and 3 victory over Niki Schroeder, a sophomore from Avon Lake, Ohio.
   Jessica Porvasnik, a senior from Hinckley, Ohio, capped her outstanding career at Ohio State by earning a point with a 5 and 4 win over He.
   On paper, it looked like the quarterfinal between Arizona State and No. 3 Florida might be the most competitive, but the Sun Devils turned it into a 5-0 rout as Mehaffey, Vaughn, Zeeb, Liti and Strom all won.
   Stanford earned a 3-2 win over No. 17 Baylor behind wins from Valenzuela, Lee and Danielson.
No. 14 Kent State put up a good fight before falling, 3-2, to Northwestern, which had earned the top seed in match play through 54 holes of stroke play. The winners for the Wildcats were Cho, Komoto and Kim.
   The finalists will be determined early Wednesday morning and a champion will be crowned later Wednesday, weather permitting of course.

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