NOBLESVILLE, Ind. - With veterans like Matt Stauch, Jude Eustaquio and Danny Evelyn on the team, it's fairly easy for the likes of Peter Creighton and Shelton Smith to go unnoticed; but after day one of the Division II National Tournament, it's those two rookies who have Florida Southern in second place, just four shots behind Nova Southeastern.
The 3rd-ranked Moccasins had a team score of 303, with #21 Ferris State (MI) only two shots behind them. Second-ranked Chico State was in fourth place with a score of 307, and #24 Queens University of Charlotte rounded out the top five with a 309.
Florida Southern was in the first wave that started early Tuesday morning and jumped out in front almost immediately. By the time the first 12 teams had all played nine holes, the Moccasins had a 12-stroke lead over Ferris State (MI), the next closest team. At that point, Creighton and Smith had already asserted themselves, with each shooting even par through at least nine holes.
Stauch helped give the Mocs an early boost when he birdied his first two holes, but it was Creighton who was out in front, setting the pace. The redshirt freshman shot even par on every hole on the front nine, then made the turn with a birdie on 10. He kept that pace going until a triple bogey on 15 dropped his score to two-over par and he finished the round with a score of three-over par 75.
Smith was even better, though he didn't have the steady start of Creighton. Playing in the #3 position, Smith was the only Moccasin who bogeyed the opening hole, but he recovered nicely. With the aid of three birdies, Smith got his score down to even par by hole #12, and kept it there until shooting a seven on the par-five #18. Even with that finish, the junior college transfer was still the Mocs' top golfer in the first round with a two-over par 74. That put him in a tie for sixth individually, with Creighton tied for 12th.
Stauch and Eustaquio were Florida Southern's other two counters with scores of 76 and 78 respectively. Stauch, who was recently voted the Sunshine State Conference Player-of-the-Year, led the team with four birdies in the first round, and had the Mocs' best score over the back nine. As the last of Florida Southern's five golfers, Stauch dropped in birdies on 16 and 18 to help the Mocs take a two-stroke lead over Ferris State after the Bulldogs had significantly cut into their lead.
Evelyn also played much better on the back nine, where he had all three of birdies. However, he wasn't able to overcome a +5 on the front nine, and his final score of seven-over par 79 wasn't counted in Florida Southern's team score.
Also among the first teams to hit the course on Tuesday were top-ranked Barry and fourth-ranked Lynn, two of Florida Southern's rivals from the Sunshine State Conference. Defending national champion Sonoma State was among the early starters too, and none of them fared especially well. Lynn and Sonoma State were tied for ninth with a score of 313, and Barry was one stroke behind them in a tie for 11th place.
Lynn got a 73 from its top golfer, Patricio Salem, but had to count an 83 by Steven Brame, who was playing in the #2 position. That's because Devin Kay had a disastrous first-round score of 95, a round that included a 13 on the par-four #3. Meanwhile, Sonoma State counted a pair of 81's.
Barry had to count scores of 81 and 82, with the 82 coming from Chris Carlin, who was playing at #1 for the Bucs. Carlin started the day with a birdie, but followed that with a triple-bogey, double-bogey, three straight bogeys, and another double.
With their day already complete early in the afternoon, the Moccasins could sit back and watch the second wave of teams try to overtake them. Only one of them did. Nova Southeastern, the fourth member of the SSC that qualified for nationals, had a first-round score of 299, counting nothing worse than a 76.
The Sharks, who came into the tournament ranked #11, were led by Ben Vertz, who birdied four of his final six holes to shoot even par 72 for the day. Vertz was the only golfer in the field of 108 to shoot par, and as such, had a one-stroke lead over four other golfers in the individual race, including Salem from Lynn.
The second round at The Sagamore Club gets underway Wednesday at 7:30 a.m. Florida Southern will be in the last wave to tee off at 12:50 p.m., and is again paired with Indiana (PA) and Wayne State (MI).