Martin: Cal's Stalter comes through for Bears
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PACIFIC PALISADES, Calif. –- Cal head coach Steve Desimone wanted Joel Stalter in the fifth and final match in Cal’s quarterfinal matchup with San Diego State, figuring the Frenchman’s familiarity with match play would pay off. It was a wise move, because Stalter was Friday’s hero for the Golden Bears.
NCAA Men's Championship: Match Play, Day 1
Check out images from Day 4 at the NCAA Men's Championship at Riviera Country Club in Pacific Palisades, Calif.
The sophomore holed a 15-foot birdie putt on Riviera Country Club’s 17th hole to close out San Diego State’s Alex Kang, 2 and 1. That win gave Cal a 3-2 victory over San Diego State and put the Bears in a semifinal match-up with top-seeded Alabama.
Stalter lifted his belly putter in the air as his ball approached the hole. He was mobbed by his teammates after it fell. Cal and San Diego State had split the first four matches, which were all complete when Stalter and Kang came to the 17th. All the focus was on them.
“I’m glad (Desimone) put me in that spot because it showed that he was confident in me,” Stalter said. “I knew it would be a lot of pressure, but I knew I could handle it.”
Stalter, from Amneville, France, became acclimated with the Bay Area during a two-week exchange program he participated in six years ago.
He and Kim were all square through 14 holes. Stalter went 1 up with a two-putt par at the par-3 16th; Kang bogeyed after his tee shot plugged in the front bunker. Stalter debated going for the par-5 17th in two, but decided to lay up because Kang drove in a fairway bunker and had to hit his second shot some 130 yards short of the green.
San Diego State, No. 14 in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings, had won five times this season and was hoping to play an underdog role a la Augusta State, which won the past two NCAA titles. Desimone wouldn’t be fooled, though.
“I told the guys before we got out of the van that they could count on it going down to the last putt today,” Desimone said.
Cal is now two matches from its second NCAA title. The Bears won their first national championship eight years ago. They won six times this season, including their first conference and regional titles this year. They’re No. 6 in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings.
Desimone put arguably his top two players in the first two matches in hopes of picking up two early points. Both Max Homa and Brandon Hagy lost, though, requiring victories from the back of Cal’s lineup.
“If you’d had told me that we’d win today without Brandon and Max (winning), I’d have climbed that tree,” Desimone said.
The Bears’ victory negated an impressive comeback from San Diego State’s J.J. Spaun. He was 2 down after seven holes to Homa, but won Nos. 8 and 10 with birdies, eagled the 11th and won Nos. 12 and 14 with pars. He hit his approach to No. 15 to 1 foot to complete the 4-and-3 victory.
Cal’s other victories Friday came from two first-year players. Pace Johnson beat San Diego State’s Matt Hoffenberg, 4 and 3. Michael Kim beat Tom Berry, 3 and 1. Johnson is in his first year at Cal after transferring from Cal Poly; Kim is a freshman.
Cal doesn’t have a single senior at Riviera, unlike the 2004 national-championship squad, which was a veteran bunch.
“It didn’t matter if it was raining or if it was 100 degrees, they’d been through college golf,” Desimone said about that 2004 team. “You just put those guys on cruise control and let them go.
“These guys, I’m not really sure yet they know what they’re doing. Sometimes you start riding that wave and you just go.”
The Bears kept on going Friday, thanks to one well-timed putt.