DANIELS, WV – Florida Southern got five fantastic rounds of golf Thursday afternoon at the Resort at Glade Springs in its national semifinal match against Lincoln Memorial, but the Railsplitters came out just a little bit ahead. Even with four rounds of par or better, including a match-best 69 from junior Chase Ibbotson and a 70 from Michael VanDerLaan, the 8th-ranked Moccasins dropped a 3-2 decision to the 10th-ranked Railsplitters to end their season.
After defeating Trevecca Nazarene in the quarterfinals Thursday morning, Florida Southern was supposed to start its semifinal match with Lincoln Memorial at 1:30 in the afternoon. Bad weather, however, pushed the start time back to 3:15, giving the Mocs and Railsplitters a little more rest.
Once it started, Dan Bradbury gave Lincoln Memorial the early advantage with a birdie on the par-4 No. 1 in the leadoff match with Max Coutsolioutsos. Both players birdied No. 2, but Bradbury won the next two holes to go up by four strokes. Coutsolioutsos still trailed by four after six holes but put together a run that saw him win two of the next three holes to make the turn down by only two.
Behind Coutsolioutsos on the course was VanDerLaan, who also fell behind when Sam Broadhust matched Bradbury's accomplishment with birdies on each of the first two holes. That put VanDerLaan down two shots, and when Broadhurst birdied again on No. 4, the deficit was three and remained that way through the turn.
The other three Moccasins were faring a little better on the front nine where Johnny Tucker was tied for almost all of it in the third position, Christian Anderson was either tied or in the lead for eight holes, and Ibbotson was in the lead for all but one in the final position. Tucker and Luke Haries went stroke for stroke over the first six holes before Haries went up by one after Tucker bogeyed No. 7. Tucker came right back though with a birdie on 8, and their match was tied again.
Ibbotson took charge of his match with an eagle on the par-5 No. 2, and parred every other hole on the front nine to make the turn at -2. Both he and Anderson had two-shot leads at that point after Anderson had parred or birdied seven straight holes from 3 through 10. That left the team score knotted in a 2-2-1 split roughly halfway through the round.
In the closing stages of the match, Ibbotson was up by five strokes with four holes to play in the number five position, but the other four Moccasins were behind in their matches. Each of those four, however, only trailed by a single shot, leaving the outcome wide open. The Railsplitters though scored the first point when Bradbury finished off a win over Coutsolioutsos, 70-72.
VanDerLaan, who had already erased a three-shot deficit by winning holes 11 and 12 to tie his match, but fell behind again by one, gave the Mocs a boost when he birdied 17 and Broadhurst bogeyed the hole. That reversed the score in their individual match to put Florida Southern in control of another point in the team match. VanDerLaan not only held on to it, he improved on it with a birdie on 18 that gave him a three-shot win over Broadhurst (70-73).
Now tied 1-1, the Mocs were in good shape with Ibbotson out in front by five shots in his match with Boyle, but the other two matches in between were still in the balance. Tucker had fallen behind by one shot on 16, but stayed in the game by duplicating Haries' birdie on 17. But when Haries also birdied 18, it clinched the win for him and put Lincoln Memorial ahead in the team score, 2-1, even with Tucker turning in a round of even-par 72.
Anderson, who had led by two after 10 holes, had already seen Hamish McColm take the lead with back-to-back birdies on 11 and 12, and was working to make up what had increased to a three-shot gap after 15. McColm was able to keep that advantage though over the final three holes, picking up a 71-74 win to put Lincoln Memorial ahead 3-1 in the team score and officially clinch the Railsplitters' spot in the national championship match.
The Moccasins would get the final point from Ibbotson, as the junior posted a seven-shot win over Boyle in a round where he lost only two holes. Ibbotson ended up with a three-under-par 69 for his best score in 11 career rounds at the national finals. His 69 included three birdies and one eagle. That put him at -2 for the day when his quarterfinal win against Trevecca Nazarene is included. He is now 4-1 in his career during medal play at the finals, with a total margin of 18 strokes.
It was the second year in a row Florida Southern and Lincoln Memorial squared off in medal play at the national finals after the Mocs had won a 4-0-1 decision in the 2018 quarterfinals. This time it was the Railsplitters who got the win to move into the national championship match for the first time where they will face the defending national champs, Lynn, a 4-1 winner over West Florida. Lincoln Memorial is the first No. 8 seed to reach the championship match since this format was adopted in 2011.
Florida Southern reached at least the national semifinals for the third year in a row in its first season under head coach Lee White. It was also the 27th time the Moccasins have finished fourth or higher at the Division II National Finals.