EKU wins OVC golf title

PADUCAH, Ky. – Entering the final round with a 26-stroke lead, the Eastern Kentucky University Colonels were able to cruise during the final round of the 2008 Ohio Valley Conference Golf Championship, claiming the title by 19 strokes. The victory marked the Colonels 11th Championship in the 60-year history of the event, which was held at the Country Club of Paducah this year.

In the individual medalist race, Murray State sophomore Nick Newcomb saved his best for last, firing a 2-under round of 70 on Tuesday to leap from fourth to first place. Newcomb’s round was highlight by a hole-in-one on the par 3, 152-yard No. 2 hole. That ace helped him edge OVC Player of the Year Phil Hendrickson of Eastern Kentucky and Austin Peay’s Grant Leaver by a single stroke. Newcomb is Murray State’s first OVC Championship medalist since 2001 (Brandon Henson) and the school’s ninth in event history. Newcomb shot a 75 (+3) on Sunday and a 71 (-1) on Monday to setup his championship winning round on Tuesday.

After jumping out to such a big lead following round two (26 strokes), EKU fell back just a bit on Tuesday to top Murray State by 19 strokes, the fifth largest margin of victory in the event’s history. The title is the second in three years for the Colonel program. The large margin of victory was uncharacteristic for an event that had been decided by more than 10 strokes only three times in the past 10 years.

Despite not claiming the individual medalist honors, Eastern Kentucky placed three of its golfers in the Top 5 and four in the Top 10. Hendrickson capped his senior season with a score of 217 (+1) following an even-par round of 72 on Tuesday. Junior Jesse Masse, who was the individual leader after round one and co-leader entering the final round, had a 2-over round of 74 (+2) on Tuesday and finished fourth, two strokes behind Newcomb. Senior Ryan Britt, the co-leader with Massie entering the day, shot a final round score of 75 (+3) and finished in fifth place. Senior Justin Moore had a 1-over round of 73 on Tuesday and finished 10th (227, +11) while junior Trey Bowling carded a 76 on Tuesday and finished in a tie for 18th (231, +18).

With the victory the Colonels earned the OVC’s automatic bid into the NCAA Championships. The bracket announcement will be held on Monday, May 5 at a still to be determined time. This year’s regional sites are Chattanooga, Tenn. (East), Columbus, Ohio (Central) and Bremerton, Wash. (West). The Regionals will take place May 15-17 with the Finals being held in West Lafayette, Ind. on May 28-31.

The All-Tournament team was comprised of the Top 5 finishers at the Championship and headlined by Newcomb, the Tournament MVP. The team also included EKU’s Hendrickson, Massie and Britt and Austin Peay’s Leaver.

Hendrickson, who led the OVC in stroke average during the season, was named OVC Player of the Year following the Championship while Colonel head coach Pat Stephens was tabbed OVC Coach of the Year for the second time in his career (2006).

Murray State finished second, 16 strokes ahead of third place Austin Peay. Defending champion Jacksonville State was fourth, followed by host Tennessee Tech and UT Martin. Samford and Eastern Illinois tied for seventh, Tennessee State was ninth and Morehead State 10th.

Although Murray State finished a distant second to EKU, the Racers actually had a solid championship, improving each round. The team combined to shoot 14 strokes better in Tuesday’s final round than during Monday’s second round. Led by Newcomb’s medalist finish, OVC Freshman of the Year Cameron Carrico finished seventh after an even-par round of 72 on Tuesday. Senior Jerry Price had the second-lowest round of the day, carding a 3-under score of 69 to finish ninth.

Austin Peay’s Leaver shot a 1-under round of 71 on Tuesday and finished just a stroke out of the individual medalist spot. The first-team All-OVC selection fired a combined 217 (+1) for the Championship. Freshman Luke Sherrod finished 11th overall after carding his best round of the Championship (74, +2) on Tuesday.

After struggling for the first two rounds, defending champion Jacksonville State had its best round on Tuesday. The Gamecocks were 29 strokes better than Monday’s second round, combining for a team-low round 287. Jax State was led by Mark Whisenant, who had the low round of the Championship with a 4-under 68 on Tuesday to finish sixth. Senior Julian Colmenares just missed his second straight All-Tournament Team appearance after placing eighth; he had a round of 71 (-1) on Tuesday. Johann Lee, Marcus Harrell and Gonzalo Berlin each had their lowest rounds of the tournament on Tuesday.

Tennessee Tech was led by All-OVC second-team selection Barrett Steakley who finished 13th overall; he had a round of 77 on Tuesday. John Fox, a first-team All-OVC selection this season, was 16th overall after a final round 75 (+3).

UT Martin’s Brad Stevens carded a 1-under 71 on Tuesday and jumped to a tie for 11th overall (228, +12). Cole Floyd was two strokes behind Stevens in 16th.

Playing in its final OVC Championship, Samford finished tied with Eastern Illinois for seventh. The Bulldogs were paced by an 18th place finish from Tyler Baird (231, +15). EIU’s Mike Imburgia fired a final round 77 and finished tied for 13th (229, +13).

Tennessee State’s Richard Gill, who was third after day one, rebounded from a score of 84 on Monday, trimming seven strokes off that score to finish with a 77 on Tuesday. Gill finished tied for 26th overall.

Morehead State’s Jeff Pierce had his best round of the championship on Tuesday, finishing with a 2-over score of 74 to finish tied for 13th overall (229).

All-Tournament Team

Nick Newcomb, Murray State (MVP)

#Phil Hendrickson, Eastern Kentucky

*Grant Leaver, Austin Peay

Jesse Massie, Eastern Kentucky

Ryan Britt, Eastern Kentucky

OVC Player of the Year: Phil Hendrickson, Eastern Kentucky
OVC Coach of the Year: Pat Stephens, Eastern Kentucky

OVC Freshman of the Year: Cameron Carrico, Murray State