To begin the 2012 spring schedule, Bowling Green traveled to Florida to compete in the inaugural Mid-American Conference Match Play Championship. When the team returned to Ohio, it brought back three losses and an 8th place finish -- good for last place in the event.
The team returned to Florida this week for the second edition of the tournament. Under first-year coach Kevin Farrell, the results were just slightly different
By slightly, I mean that they couldn't have possibly been more different.
Matches in the three-round consisted of six players from opposing schools competing in individual one-on-one matches. A team would get one point if an individual won their match, or 0.5 points if the individuals tied. Teams needed 3.5 points to win; if a match ended 3-3, tiebreakers would be used based on which team's individuals won by the largest margins.
The Falcons won all three of their matches this year, as the 6th seed in an eight team field. In their opening match against rival Toledo (#3), Bowling Green advanced on a tiebreaker after the teams each earned 3 points. Of the six individual one-on-one rounds, two ended in ties and each team won one by a 5-and-4 margin. When BG's Chris Melvin defeated UT's Patrick Cermak 7-and-5, the Falcons advanced after Otto Black (UT) could only beat Wes Gates (BG) 2-up.
Also in the first round, top seed Ball State advanced 4.5-1.5 over #8 Ohio, while #4 Eastern Michigan and #7 Northern Illinois each advanced via tiebreakers after 3-3 ties against #5 Miami and #2 Akron, respectively.
Bowling Green advanced to the championship match with a rather easy second round victory over Northern Illinois. Falcon golfers captured five of the six individual matches with Wes Gates and Joe Cooper registering the biggest wins of the round. Each won by 5-and-3 margins against their Huskies opponents.
Ball State defeated Eastern Michigan, 4.5-1.5, in the second round and moved on to face BGSU in the championship round.
The championship round between the Falcons and Cardinals featured an epic ending. After trailing in their matches early, Cardinal players staged a comeback and positioned themselves to win e championship. Brodie Williams halved his match with Charlie Olson, while McCormick Clouser beat BGSU's Chris Melvin 2-up. The Falcons' Wes Gates beat Tyler Merkel, but only by a margin of 1-up. That gave BSU a potential tiebreaker edge.
Ball State led the other three individual matches down the stretch. Holden Pahr trailed by three holes with just three holes to play, and Joe Cooper trailed by one hole as he began the final hole of the round. Ryan Triller also trailed by one with two holes to play. At that point, Ball State only needed to win one more hole to capture the title.
Bowling Green won all of the remaining holes. Pahr won each of the final three holes to halve his match with Tony Lazzara, and Cooper birdied and won the final hole of his match to halve it with Alex Stinson. Finally, Ryan Triller (in his first event with BGSU after transferring from Mount St. Mary's) birdied the 17th hole and sank a par putt on the 18th hole. Both results were good enough to win the holes, giving him a 1-up match victory against Joe Gasser.
This result is no small feat for BGSU golf. The Falcons experienced a coaching change and the loss of two key seniors after last season, and the team has generally resided in the bottom half of the MAC for the past several years.
Is this team, laden with juniors and seniors, ready to take a real step up into the upper reaches of the MAC? There is a long way to go until the MAC Championships in May, and MAC powerhouse Kent State was not in this tournament.
However, this victory would appear to be a very positive step. Senior Wes Gates is having easily the best season of an already-impressive career, and he is complemented by very experienced players like Olson and Melvin. And first-year coach Kevin Farrell? Last year, he led Mount St. Mary's to a conference championship and appearance in an NCAA regional.
Bowling Green also defeated the #34 team in the nation (Golfweek/Sagarin) to win this match play tournament.
One tournament is just that -- one tournament. But the difference between 2012 and 2013? It's far too large to be ignored.