Hours after dispatching of Vanderbilt in the quarterfinals, No. 3 USC fell one match short of reaching their second straight national final, falling to Texas, 4-1, in the NCAA Championships semifinals Tuesday afternoon (May 31) at the Eugene (Ore.) C.C.
The Trojans reached the semifinals for the second straight season after falling in the NCAA final a year ago. With the loss today, USC officially ties for third, giving it its first back-to-back NCAA top 3 finishes since the Trojans finished third three years in a row between 1964-66.
Junior Rico Hoey was USC’s sole winner in the semifinal match, defeating Taylor Funk decisively, 6&5. He led by three holes through 5 holes, by four holes at the turn and clinched it with a par on 13.
“We fought hard all day but we came up a little short,” Hoey said. “It was a great win in the morning, but we fell a couple matches short of our goal. We have a lot of talent on this team and luckily, no one is leaving, and I think this will make us stronger for next year.”
The Trojans, in their third NCAA match play tournament since the format switched in 2009, led at the turn today, senior Andrew Levitt and sophomore Sean Crocker joining Hoey, both holding slim 1-hole leads. Sophomore Jonah Texeira and freshman Justin Suh, who both ran away with their quarterfinal matches, each fell behind by multiple holes early and trailed by three and two holes, respectively, at their turns.
Crocker battled Longhorn Scottie Scheffler back and forth, falling behind one on 13 after his second shot went long and squaring it back on the tricky 14th hole. It remained tied until 17 when a Scheffler par took the hole and the Longhorn headed down 18 ahead one.
Texas’ Doug Ghim finished off Suh, 4&3 and Longhorn Gavin Hall beat Texeira by the same score, leaving Crocker and Levitt needing to win out to keep USC alive.
Levitt, facing childhood friend Beau Hossler, one of the highest ranked amateurs in the world, had held the lead through 13. But he missed par putts on 13 and 14 that opened the door for Hossler, who won 14 and then went up with wins on 15 and 16.
Hossler appeared to injure his shoulder on 16 but managed to chip in from the ridge of the green to win the hole and go 2up. After a long medical timeout after his 17th tee shot that saw Crocker and Scheffler play through, Hossler connected on a long par on 17 to clinch the match.
“I grew up playing with Beau and I haven’t seen him as much recently, but it was great today. It was the kind of stuff growing up you dreamt about, besides playing pro, playing against each other on a big stage for a chance at a college title. That’s as good as it gets,” Levitt said. “As far as what I can control today, I look back at the bogeys on 13 and 14 and I kind of shot myself in the foot. At the same time, some of the stuff Beau did at the end of the round, you have to take your hat off. He went out and won it, rather than me giving it away. I felt I played pretty well most of the match.”
Said USC Head Coach Chris Zambri after the match: “First, congratulations to Texas. I haven’t talked to all of ours guys yet, but I know they competed as hard as they could out there and Texas made a few more shots than us today. Andrew gutted it out and did a good job against a tough opponent. By ranking he might have been over matched but had control of that match for a long time. Rico played great, had a ton of birdies.
“I’m really proud of the team and that we’ve made back-to-back semifinals, but we still haven’t achieved our ultimate goal, which is to win the program’s first national title. It’s a long road to win it and it’s really hard. It’s a gauntlet. But I love our team and we’ll get after it again next year.”