MILTON, Ga. –– Alabama coach Jay Seawell and his players have heard the question many times now.
How will last year’s loss to Texas motivate you to get back to the NCAA Championship final?
“We’ve answered that question for a whole year,” Seawell said.
And they’ve answered it the same way.
“We start at zero every day; that’s kind of our motto,” Seawell said. “Every time you peg it in the ground, you’re starting over.”
After a 3-0-2 victory over Georgia Tech Saturday at the Capital City Club’s Crabapple course – a win that has Alabama one win away from a national title for the second straight year – the Crimson Tide no longer have to answer that question.
They’ll play Illinois for a national title on Sunday morning.
“There’s only one team in the country that can say they’ve been to the championship match two years in a row, and it’s a tremendous honor to just be a part of it,” said Alabama senior Justin Thomas, who defeated Seth Reeves, 3 and 1.
The Crimson Tide, who had beaten New Mexico 4-1 a day earlier, looked like they had a chance to win 5-0, something that’s never been done in match play at the NCAA Championship. But after Thomas sealed his match, clinching the overall win for Alabama, the remaining two matches – both looking at playoffs to decide the winner – were halted.
Bobby Wyatt was in the fairway on his first playoff hole, No. 16, after Georgia Tech’s Anders Albertson tied the match at No. 18 with par. Scott Strohmeyer had just finished his final hole squared up with the Yellow Jackets’ Bo Andrews.
“They’re a really, really, really good team, for sure,” Georgia Tech head coach Bruce Heppler said. “Really good.”
It wasn’t the sweep fans were hoping for. Even Wyatt was a little disappointed his match ended in a draw. But as Thomas said, “It doesn’t matter how you get there. You just want to be there holding that big trophy on Sunday.”
In addition to Thomas’ victory, Cory Whitsett beat Ollie Schniederjans, 3 and 2, while Trey Mullinax, playing in just his second NCAA Championship match, recorded a 4-and-3 victory over Shun Yat “Jason” Hak.
Mullinax, who suffered Alabama’s only loss in the quarterfinals, was 2 down through seven holes before winning No. 8 with a par. He then ran into Seawell, who was waiting for him at No. 9.
“He told me to stay focused and keep hitting good shots,” Mullinax said.
Mullinax then won five of the next six holes before closing out the match with par at the par-3 15th.
“The team rallied around him last night at dinner,” Seawell said. “He was fine; he was not sulking or anything. When he won that eighth hole it kind of lifted his spirits a little bit.”
Said Mullinax: “To be honest, I was tired of losing.”
So much was made of California’s 11-win season and the Bears’ title chances. But Alabama entered the week with five straight victories, and now the Crimson Tide have a chance to run that streak to six.
Oh, and get the school’s first national championship.
“I’m sure deep in their hearts they realize that this is an opportunity that most teams don’t get: an opportunity to do it again,” Seawell said.
Said Thomas: “It’s been awesome. I can’t believe we’re back again.”
Mullinax called it a good problem to have, being back in the national title match for the second straight year.
A good problem to have, indeed.