Balicki: A battle of Georgia set for Sunday

Balicki: A battle of Georgia set for Sunday

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Balicki: A battle of Georgia set for Sunday

STILLWATER, Okla. – For the past 25-plus years, there has been plenty of parity in Division I men’s college golf. That’s evident by the fact that the last team to win back-to-back NCAA titles was Houston, in 1984-85.

Going into the 2010-11 season and coming off its first-ever national golf championship, Augusta State, to many, did not seem like a leading threat to break that string.

But coach Josh Gregory and his Jaguars felt differently.

“We were always saying, ‘Why not us?’ ” Gregory said. “It’s been our battle cry all year.”

On Sunday, Augusta State will have the opportunity to make it happen. After beating No. 1-ranked Oklahoma State, 3 and 2, in Saturday’s semifinals and the day before disposing of No. 2 Georgia Tech, 3 and 2, the Jags will be playing Sunday for their second consecutive NCAA crown.

And how about this one? Wrong Ron plans to be Right Ron come late Sunday afternoon as I predict the 2011 champion will be a team from the state of Georgia.

I can’t lose, because Augusta State will take on another Peach State rival in Georgia, which advanced to the final by beating Duke, 3 and 2.

“Two schools from the same state playing each other for a national championship. How good is that?” Georgia coach Chris Haack said. “I think for both of us, it’s pretty special.

“It should be a good match up,” said Haack, who guided the Bulldogs to NCAA titles in 1999 and 2005. “We’re playing well, and we know Augusta State is a very good team. They won it all last year, and four of those guys are back this year.”

Said Gregory: “I’m just so proud of our guys. To beat the No. 1 team in the country on their home course, with thousands of fans cheering for them on every shot, is quite an accomplishment.”

In looking to Sunday’s final, Gregory said, “It’s kind of strange. Coach Haack and I were talking earlier this week and saying how neat it would be if we both made it to the final match. And here we are. We certainly have all the respect in the world for them, and we know it’s going to be yet another grind.

“He’s (Haack) got two (national championship) rings, and I want two badly,” Gregory said. “I couldn’t think of a better final match.”

Augusta State was No. 8 in the Golfweek/Sagarin Rankings at the start of the week; Georgia came in at No. 14. In 54-hole stroke play qualifying, Georgia finished fifth, four shots better than Augusta State (seventh). The only two times they faced each other in a tournament this season came in the fall, with the Bulldogs finishing third to the Jaguars’ T-4 at the Ping/Golfweek Preview and Georgia placing first to ASU’s second at the Brickyard.

And, of course, both of those events were strictly stroke play. Two Augusta State players are ranked in the top 15: Patrick Reed (8) and Henrik Norlander (15). Georgia has three players in the top 60: Harris English (33), Russell Henley (35) and Hudson Swafford (57).

While Augusta State had four players who can draw on the experience of NCAA match play from a year ago (Reed, Norlander, Mitch Krywulycz and Carter Newman), Georgia has three team members who were part of the team that made it to the semifinals in 2009 (English, Henley and Swafford).

All in all, it should be quite a matchup, and it would be a surprise if it didn’t produce much of the same excitement and drama as the two semifinal matches.

Who is my pick? That’s a tough one.

Augusta State’s top player, Reed, who is now 5-0 in NCAA match play, said to me after the Jags made it to the final: “Don’t you dare pick us. Don’t you ever pick us.”

And Haack actually credits me for this team’s final-match appearance. “No question,” Haack said, “one of the big reasons we’re playing tomorrow is because you didn’t pick us this year.”

With all that in mind, here’s my take on Sunday’s five championship matches:

• Bryden MacPherson (Georgia) defeats Olle Bengtsson, 4 and 3.

• Carter Newman (Augusta State) defeats T.J. Mitchell, 2 and 1.

• Hudson Swafford (Georgia) defeats Mitch Krywulycz, 1 up.

• Russell Henley (Georgia) defeats Henrik Norlander, 2 up.

• Patrick Reed (Augusta State) defeats Harris English, 2 and 1.

So there you have it. A team from Georgia wins the 2011 NCAA Championship, and in this case it’s the “University of” with a 3-and-2 win in the title match.

One thing is also pretty much certain: crowds. I don’t think I’ve ever seen such large galleries at an NCAA Championship as those that turned out Saturday to watch the host Cowboys.

But the Cowboys won’t be there Sunday. Big question: Will the fans follow suit? Compared with Saturday, Karsten Creek might resemble a ghost town Sunday.

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