NOBLESVILLE, Ind. - Florida Southern's 9-stroke lead over Nova Southeastern and Sonoma State was safe Thursday, but a 10-stroke lead over Chico State (CA) wasn't. The Moccasins first lost it, then got it back before losing it again very late, and falling one stroke behind the Wildcats with one round remaining at the NCAA Division II National Finals.
The Moccasins were nine-over during their first few holes on Thursday, allowing Nova to get within four strokes and Chico State to get within one; but while the Sharks started slipping back again, the Wildcats continued their push forward and caught Florida Southern by the time the Mocs' first golfer made the turn. Danny Evelyn was the first to do so, and his score of two-over par at that point was the Mocs' best. On the other hand, Sonoma State had all five of its golfers at +2 or better.
Chico State then forged ahead after Brandon Harkins and Lucas Delgado each eagled the par-five #14 hole, and Kyle Souza birdied 13 and 14. That helped give the Wildcats a 3-stroke lead, and that's when the Moccasins began their run to re-claim the lead behind Evelyn.
Evelyn started the recovery with birdies on 12, 14 and 18, while Shelton Smith was right behind him on the course with birdies on 12 and 13. At roughly the same time that Smith was doing his part, Jude Eustaquio picked up a birdie on the par-three #11, and Matt Stauch did the same shortly thereafter. When combined with a pair of late double-bogeys by Chico State, the Mocs had suddenly turned a 3-stroke deficit into a 4-stroke advantage, while Sonoma State was 11 back and Nova Southeastern trailed by 14.
Even then, however, the lead was tenuous. Evelyn was the first Moccasin to finish, carding a one-over par 73 for his best round of the tournament. Peter Creighton followed with an 81, a score the Mocs didn't have to count as they waited on Eustaquio, Smith and Stauch to finish their rounds. Chico State was already in the clubhouse with a team score of 293, but still four shots behind Florida Southern.
After his birdie on 11, Eustaquio shot par on every hole the rest of the way, but his +8 on the front nine caused him to finish as the Mocs' fourth counter with a 79. Meanwhile, the Mocs' 4-stroke lead was cut to one when Smith bogeyed 17, and Stauch had a double on 15. When both golfers again had a bogey on their next hole, and Smith finished with a 77, the score was again in Chico State's favor. It remained that way when Stauch parred his final hole to end the day with a 75.
That gave Florida Southern a 304 in round three, following first- and second-round scores of 303 and 292. It also allowed them to hold off Sonoma State, which shot a 303 and trails Florida Southern by eight shots. Fourth-place Central Missouri is 10 shots behind the Moccasins, with Western New Mexico one shot behind the Mules.
Nova Southeastern fell all the way to sixth, and top-ranked Barry is in seventh place, 23 strokes behind Chico State.
Stauch remained Florida Southernâ€™s top golfer in the tournament with a 3-day total of 222. That puts him in fifth place going into the final round, trailing Cyril Bouniol of Abilene Christian by seven strokes. With a 71, Bouniol had his second straight under-par round on Thursday, taking over the individual lead from Ben Lasso of Queens (NC). Lasso had opened the tournament with scores of 73 and 70, but shot an 82 on Thursday and fell into a tie for 10th place.
Second-place Kyle Souza of Chico State trails Bouniol by three shots, and Justin Yoder of Central Missouri and Bobby Bode of Nova Southeastern are each four shots off the pace.
Smith is among those tied for 10th with a 3-day total of 225, and Eustaquio is tied for 28th with a 229. Evelyn (230) is tied for 33rd, and Creighton (231) is tied for 35th. Florida Southern is the only team in the field with all five of its golfers in the top 40, and Chico State is the only other team with all five in the top 60.
The final round of the National Championship Tournament begins Friday morning at 7:30, with Florida Southern again among the last teams to tee off. The Moccasins will play with two of the four schools from California, Chico State and Sonoma State, beginning at 12:50 p.m.