East: Auburn on ropes after Day 2

Candace Schepperle

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1SooBin KimWashington  68.13 
2Alison LeeUCLA  69.06 
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4Nanna MadsenS Carolina  69.75 
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Women's Team Rankings »

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Cydney Clanton got an extra long hug from Alabama’s Kathleen Ekey as the pair walked off the ninth green Friday at the University of Florida’s Mark Bostick Golf Course. The Auburn sophomore needed it.

Fifteen minutes later, Auburn freshman Patricia Sanz slapped her hand across the face of her putter after missing a putt at No. 9, the team’s final hole on Day 2 of the NCAA Women’s East Regional. She looked like she needed a hug, too.

Soon after, coach Kim Evans stood with her arms crossed staring at the giant leaderboard as the team’s top player, Candace Schepperle, signed her card. What Evans saw wasn’t pretty. Her second-seeded Auburn Tigers, winners of four spring events, including the SEC Championship, were the last of 13 names listed on the board.

“We’ve got a lot to take care of tomorrow,” Evans said. “It just kind of fell apart.”

Despite playing 10 shots better in the second round, Auburn, No. 7 in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings, was tied for 12th after a 14-over 294. More importantly, the Tigers are six shots behind eighth-place Georgia. The top 8 teams after Saturday’s final round will advance to the NCAA Championship.

Just squeaking by, however, is not how Auburn planned to do it.

“Maybe expectations got a little too high coming in,” Evans said. “They now know the seriousness of it.”

Auburn opened the spring with a victory at the Central District Invitational, then strung together three consecutive titles, including its first SEC Championship since 2006, on their way to the East Regional. Junior Candace Schepperle rose to No. 1 in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings, and Clanton posted three top-5 finishes.

“We’ve been doing good all semester, and now we’re surprised,” Sanz said.

Something has been off for the Tigers in Gainesville. Clanton, the 2008 NGCA Freshman of the Year, struggled with her putter again on Friday and shot a second consecutive 78. Sanz made needed pars on her last six holes to shoot 73. Sophomore Sarah Thead has broken 80 just once. The bright spot for the Tigers has been Schepperle, who backed up a 71 with a 70 in the second round and is tied for second in the individual race.

“We can’t look back on what we did wrong,” Evans said. “We have to learn from it.”

When Evans huddled with the troops after the round, there was a simple message: We know we can do it.

Nearly a month ago to the day at the Lady Gator Invitational in April, which was played on the same course as the East Regional, Auburn rallied from an eight-shot deficit to force a playoff with Duke, then beat the Blue Devils in extra holes. What’s more, at the SEC Championship two weeks later, the Tigers turned a three-shot deficit into an eight-shot victory.

They’ll need a similar comeback tomorrow to keep their season alive.

“Maybe we can give another surprise,” Sanz said. “But a good one.”

• • •

GOING THE WRONG WAY: A day after being the surprise leader, 12th-seeded East Carolina shot 33-over 313 – the second-highest second-round score of the 21-team field – and tumbled into 11th place.

“We made a lot of mental mistakes, and that’s what happens when you’re tight and not used to being in this position,” coach Kevin Williams said.

Two players didn’t break 80, including Ana Maria Puche, who was in tears after shooting 42 on the back nine. The junior was tied for the first-round lead after a 68.

The Pirates are four shots back of the eighth position.

• • •

BUBBLE TALK: Furman advanced to the NCAA Championship last year at the East Regional by a shot. The Paladins are back on the bubble again this year.

Furman went 15 shots better in Round 2 Friday, tying South Carolina for the best second-round score in the field with a 290, and are three shots behind eighth-place Georgia.

Although the Paladins returned three players from their national championship squad this season, the team’s dynamic has been completely overhauled.

“The team chemistry is unbelievable now,” said senior Blair Lamb, who shot a second-round 70. “The last three years has been very up-and-down. But this year it’s been very consistent.”

Coach Jen Hanna, an admittedly intense leader, had some strong words for her team at the NCAA Championship last year after the Paladins finished dead last. Corrine Carr, a junior who led the Paladins in scoring at last year’s East Regional, transferred to South Carolina at the end of 2008, and two freshmen were brought on board.

At the start of the season, Hanna decided to augment her coaching philosophy to fit the new personality of the team. Instead of pushing them so hard to win, Hanna focused on preparation and practice. She found that her players became more self-motivated and started enjoying their time on the course, not thinking of it as work.

“I didn’t want them to have that pressure,” said Hanna, who played in three national championships with Furman (1995-98) and is in her fourth year as head coach. “I wanted them to know they’re prepared and just let it happen.”

The Paladins won their second consecutive Southern Conference title April 21. Now they’re in the hunt for another national championship appearance.

“Especially after how awful it was last year,” Lamb said. “I’d like to go back and redeem ourselves.”

• • •

SHORT SHOTS: Alabama moved ahead by eight shots after an 11-over 291, the day’s second-best score. Sophomore Camilla Lennarth is the only player under par for 36 holes, and leads the individual race by two shots over Vanderbilt’s Marina Alex, Tennessee’s Nathalie Mansson and Schepperle. . . . Just 15 shots separate second-place Denver and the three teams tied for 12th.

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