Wichita State wins Rio Pinar Invitational

Wichita State claimed its first Rio Pinar Invitational March 20, 2012.

Wichita State claimed its first Rio Pinar Invitational March 20, 2012.

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ORLANDO, Fla. — Wichita State claimed its first Rio Pinar Invitational team title Tuesday — the Shockers’ first such accomplishment in 16 seasons under head coach Grier Jones.

But perhaps even more importantly, Wichita State ended a stretch of two poor outings to begin the spring, turning in a 20-under 844, four strokes ahead of runner-up Central Florida, at Rio Pinar Country Club.

“This is the best we’ve played,” Jones said. “We’ve been coming here ever since I’ve been coaching here, and we like it here. To win here and beat a team like Central Florida is a real accomplishment. They are one of the better teams we’ve played against all year.”

The Shockers, who won two tournaments and finished no worse than third last fall, began their spring campaign with fourth- and sixth-place finishes at the Oak Hill Invitational and Rice Intercollegiate, respectively.

But things turned around for Wichita State on Tuesday, as the Shockers closed the tournament with a 10-under 278 to separate themselves from UCF, which shot a final round of 282, and Florida Gulf Coast, which a shot final round of 287.

“All the guys have been working really hard these past two or three weeks because the scores we were shooting were not us,” said Shockers junior Rafael Becker, who placed second individually with an 8-under 208, which was just a stroke shy of medalist Jack Hernandez of Florida Gulf Coast.

“Making regionals and nationals, that’s what we have on our minds, so we needed to start playing good golf. Everybody is in a better rhythm now.”

In addition to Becker’s runner-up finish, which was capped with a final-round 69, Tyler Gann, Hunter Sparks and Louis Cohen Boyer all notched top-10 finishes for Wichita State, which is ranked No. 32 in the Golfweek/Sagarin men’s team collegiate rankings.

Sparks carded a 6-under 66 to close the tournament and help the Shockers complete the comeback after trailing FGCU by three strokes entering the final round.

“All five guys played really well,” Jones said. “We didn’t let it get away from us.”

Wichita State also snapped host Central Florida’s four-year tournament winning streak. The Shockers and Knights were tied for second after the first two rounds Monday.

UCF, ranked No. 20 in the Golfweek/Sagarins, had been atop the leaderboard entering the final round of its own tournament in each of the past four seasons. The Knights led by 13 strokes entering last year’s final round and had at least a 4-stroke advantage going into the last 18 holes the previous three seasons.

“I know they’re great players, but anybody can win,” Becker said. “It doesn’t matter where you play or where you’re from. If you have a good week, you’re going to beat some good teams. Of course it’s good to beat them on their home course, but it’s even better knowing that we played really well.”

Said UCF coach Bryce Wallor: “My hat's off to Grier Jones, who is a classy coach. He brings a lot to his team, and they played great. For us, it was just a couple shots here and there, simple stuff.”

The Knights were led by sophomores Ricardo Gouveia, who placed third at 7 under, and Jose Joia, who notched his sixth top 10 of the season with an eighth-place, 4-under finish.

UCF was trying for its second tournament victory in a row after winning the USF Invitational in Tampa earlier this month. Now Wichita State will try to make it two straight when the team travels to Phoenix next week for the Desert Shootout.

“Golf is a funny deal,” said Jones, a former PGA Tour player. “You’d like to think that this will carry on. Even when I was playing, people don’t want to know what you did last week, only what you do next week. Starting Thursday we’re going to have to forget about this, pick up our ball and go.”

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