OCALA, Fla. – The Stetson women’s golf team did all that it could do to make up ground against Mercer on Tuesday in the final round of the MSU Ocala Spring Invitational.
The Hatters posted their best score of the tournament, and best of the season, with a final round 294 to make up five strokes on the front-running Bears, but fell seven shots short of defending their title from the 2012 tournament.
Stetson’s 890 was 10 shots off the winning pace from 2012 and equaled the teams’ best three-round tournament score since that event. The Hatters also posted an 890 to finish third in the Atlantic Sun Conference Tournament last year.
“This was by far our best outing of the year,” Hatters coach Floyd Kerr said. “We were under 300 for three straight days and that is good. Every player had counting scores for at least two rounds, and that is good.
“I thought, late in the round that we had a chance to catch Mercer. They had one girl (Mary Alice Murphy) shoot a 69 and that kept them in front.”
The Hatters were led by junior Sammi Smith, who posted an even par 72 in the final round of the event and finished in a tie for eighth place with a total score of 221, a career best. Her previous low tournament score was a 224, which she posted twice last fall.
Smith finished six shots behind McKayla Anderson of McNeese State, who finished with a two-under par 70 on Tuesday to close out an amazing comeback after an opening round 78. Her total score for the tournament was a one-over par 215 to edge Morehead State’s Katie Rice by two shots.
Second round tournament leader Lacey Fears of Mercer finished third, three shots off the lead, after posting a final round score of 77.
The Hatters had two other players earn top 15 finishes in the tournament. Junior Mallory Viera continued her strong play from Monday and posted a two-over par 74 on Tuesday to finish 12th in the tournament with a total score of 224. Ryan Ashburn finished one shot further back, at 225, in a tie for 13th place after a final round score of 78.
Stetson’s other two players also had strong performances on Tuesday. Junior Jenna Hoecker finished with a final round score of 75 to tie for 22nd at 229. Claudia Redinger had her best round of the event on Tuesday as well, a 73, and finished tied for 32nd at 231.
“I have been telling this team all along that they are better than they have been playing and I think they are starting to believe that,” Kerr said. “This is the time to do that as we get ready to head to the conference tournament. Everyone is to the point where they are hitting a lot of good golf shots.”
The Hatters will return to action April 7-9 at the Marsh Landing Invitational in Jacksonville. That event will serve as the teams’ final tune-up before the A-Sun Championship Tournament, which is scheduled for April 14-16 at Jekyll Island, Ga.
“I thought there were two teams in the league that were head and shoulders above everyone else, but now I think there are four with ETSU, Kennesaw State, Mercer and us. It will be a wide-open race. If we keep going the way we have been we should be pretty competitive.”