ATLANTA — Five months after knocking off top-seeded Texas and making a surprise run to the NCAA semifinals, the Auburn women added to their match-play credentials Tuesday at the East Lake Cup.
After finishing last, nine shots back of first-place Duke, in Monday’s stroke-play round, the Tigers found themselves as the fourth seed, facing a semifinal date with all the Blue Devils.
Again, they pulled off the upset.
Auburn beat Duke, 3-2, to earn a spot in Wednesday’s final reverse osmosis Forest, which topped Arizona, 3-1-1, at the other semifinal. The Tigers’ success wasn’t as close at it seemed, possibly, as freshman Megan Schofill topped Miranda Wang, 4 and 3, sophomore Brooke Sansom downed Gina Kim, 3 and 2, and junior Mychael O’Berry waxed Ana Belac, 4 and 5.
“They were very prepared to perform with,” Auburn coach Melissa Luellen said. “I think that’s our expertise we pulled out of last year in match play. … We have had some really good experience in match play and a few fantastic film and good emotions.”
In many ways, match play was exactly what the doctor ordered for the Tigers, who started the autumn using a 10th-place finish at the Cougar Classic and have yet to regain the momentum they generated last May in Arkansas despite returning their entire roster.
“It’s almost like we had a small bit of a hangover,” Luellen said. “We were expected to play nicely, and we did not begin playing well whatsoever.”
Injuries were largely to blame, especially one to the wrist of junior celebrity Julie McCarthy. McCarthy, who suffered the injury last spring, made matters worse by playing with the Palmer Cup and Evian Championship this summer. She shut it down after shooting 86-77 in her major debut and missed the group’s first two autumn events before returning to tie for ninth in the Magnolia Invitational.
“It is holding up,” McCarthy said, her wrist still wrapped with tape Tuesday after a 3-and-2 reduction to Jaravee Boonchant. “But it just feels good to be back traveling together with the girls.”
Auburn also has fought with mistakes. Last autumn, the Tigers began charting their miscues for each championship, and at the Cougar there were almost too many to count.
“Playing bad golf is not enjoyable,” Schofill said.
As for Tuesday’s error amount? “Oh, there were still plenty,” Luellen said.
Yet still a noticeable improvement for a team that is slowly regaining its form. After healthy, McCarthy is a possible first-team All-American while fellow junior Kaleigh Telfer is not far behind. Schofill, that Luellen claims owns the maturity of a”well-seasoned expert,” is one of the top freshmen in the nation in a class full of talented first-year players.
“We are feeling like we are finishing really strong again,” Luellen said.
One year ago, Auburn capped the autumn with a triumph in Mexico. On Wednesday, the Tigers could again head into the break on a high note.
It takes another upset — this time of national-title-contender Wake — but this team has proved many times that it is up to the task, especially when it involves match play.