NOBLESVILLE, Ind. - Earlier in the week, Florida Southern moved up to #2 in the national rankings as the Moccasins began play in the NCAA Division II Finals. They won't stay there very long. Pulling away early from Chico State before holding off a late charge by Central Missouri, Florida Southern went on to win the 2010 Division II National Championship, the 12th national title in team history.
Chico State had wrested the lead away from Florida Southern on Thursday, but one day later, the Moccasins grabbed it back. Only one stroke separated the two teams going into the final round, and the Mocs made up the difference right away and never surrendered the lead once they had it. Matt Stauch had a lot to do with that, as the senior birdied two of his first three holes and added another one on #6 that put him at three-under for the round. The Mocs also got a birdie from Jude Eustaquio on his first hole that officially put them ahead to stay.
Stauch continued to carry the Mocs the rest of the day, and it was fitting that his birdie putt on 18 was the final punch that allowed Florida Southern to celebrate its 12th national championship overall, the fifth under current head coach Doug Gordin, and their first since 2000. No other team has won more than six national championships at the Division II level.
Florida Southern was never far from first place at any point in the tournament, but Nova Southeastern and Chico State each had their day at the top of the standings. In the end, the Sharks really weren't a factor, and the Mocs' final round score of 307 was enough to widen the gap between them and Chico State. Central Missouri made it interesting though, with three eagles on the back nine that got them within five strokes; but the Mules finished before Florida Southern did and could only watch as the Moccasins did what they had to do.
The Mocs ended up having to count 81's from both Eustaqio and Peter Creighton, but Chico State had a pair of 80's to nearly balance it out. It was the first time all week Florida Southern counted a score over 80, and only the second time Chico State had to do it. Still, Creighton made his presence felt earlier with back-to-back rounds of 75 to start the tournament, and Eustaqio picked the Mocs up with a 72 in round two before his one-under par on the back nine Wednesday helped keep the Mocs within striking distance at the end of round three.
Where the Mocs really made up ground on Friday was with Shelton Smith and Stauch. Smith shot a two-over par 74 and Stauch finished with a 71. That was a total of 11 strokes better than Chico Stateâ€™s top two counters and dead even with the top two from Central Missouri, which also had to count an 80.
The Moccasins didn't count Danny Evelyn's 82, but like Eustaqio and Creighton, Evelyn was part of the reason Florida Southern was even within striking distance going into Friday. His 73 on Thursday was the Mocs' best score of the day and helped keep them within one shot of the lead.
The final round was historic before it ever began. Due to impending thunderstorms in the afternoon, the Division II Men's Golf Committee utilized the administrative cut option under NCAA guidelines, and trimmed the field from 20 teams to 15, giving them a better chance of completing a full round. Also making the cut were the top seven golfers not on one of the 15 remaining teams, and tee times were adjusted to ensure an earlier finish.
It was the first time on record the NCAA was forced to use that option, and put schools like Florida Southern in a dangerous position. If the final round was not completed in its entirety, the score would revert back to the end of the third round, and Chico State would be crowned national champion.
Fortunately for the Moccasins, that didn't happen. The round was completed, though higher winds than the first three days certainly played a role in Friday's scores. Florida Southern, Chico State, Nova Southeastern and Western New Mexico, four of the top five teams entering the final round, all had their highest scores of the tournament.
Gordin's assessment of the course early in the week proved to be correct too, as he called it one of the most difficult he's seen in Division II golf. It was the first time since 1995 the national champion had a final score over 1,200. Florida Southern finished with a 4-day total of 1,206.
While Central Missouri was seven shots behind and Chico State eight back, defending national champion Sonoma State was in fourth place with a 10-stroke deficit. Barry, which had been ranked #1 in the country entering the finals, finished fifth with a margin of 12 strokes, and Nova Southeastern was sixth, 20 strokes behind Florida Southern.
The individual champion was individual qualifier Cyril Bouniol of Abilene Christian who was the only golfer in the field to break par. Holding on to his lead from Thursday, Bouniol shot a three-under 285 for the tournament, six strokes better than Justin Yoder of Central Missouri. Florida Southern's Matt Stauch was third with a 293, trailing the Bouniol by eight shots.
Shelton Smith was tied for eighth with a 299, Jude Eustaquio tied for 30th with a 310, and both Danny Evelyn and Peter Creighton tied for 41st with scores of 312.