Ball State Men’s Golf fell five strokes shy of winning the Mid-American Conference tournament with two players inside the top five.
The Cardinals traveled to Athens Alabama and played at the Canebrake Golf Club. The roster consisted of sophomore Kash Bellar, graduate student Joey Ranieri, sophomore Ali Khan, freshman Carter Smith and redshirt sophomore Griffin Hare.
Bellar earned fourth place for his 1-under-par three-round total. Smith earned tied for fifth with his even-par three-round total.
“The condition of the golf course wasn't so good.” Head coach Mike Fleck said. “They were just a few weeks behind with the Bermuda [grass] not having a good winter. That kind of made it a challenge to hit off of dormant Bermuda for three days but we made the adjustments and worked through it. The greens were really good though.”
Sunday - Round One
Ball State found themselves down after round one, in second to last place after the first 18 holes of play.
“I actually felt really good, the field was tightly contested,” Fleck said. “We didn't have our best and it kind of positioned us at the bottom on the leaderboard, but we were only eight shots out of the lead.”
Hare led the Cardinals in round one with his 1-over-par score of 73 and was closely followed by Ranieri who shot a 2-over-par 74.
Smith and Bellar both posted a 4-over-par 76 and to round out Ball State, Khan came in with an 8-over-par 80.
Monday - Round Two
The Cardinals dropped 17 strokes from round one to round two.
Bellar led the Cardinals and dropped eight strokes himself and posted one of the lowest rounds of the day with his 4-under-par 68.
Smith posted a 2-under-par 70 in his second round.
Khan dropped nine strokes from his first round with his 1-under-par 71.
Hare shot a 1-over-par 73 followed by Ranieri with his 2-over-par 74.
“We just played better, I've got some really good players,” Fleck said. “We just put it together a little bit more efficiently than what we did in that first round and the guys showed up. Having Kash [Bellar] go under par and you know, Carter [Smith] finished birdie, birdie, birdie to get it under par in that second round and Ali was under par. Those three rounds were big in terms of moving us up the leaderboard and getting us into the mix again.”
Tuesday - Round Three
Ball State entered the day only seven down to Northern Illinois for first place.
“I just challenged them to go compete and understand that some punches are going to come relative to the golf course,” Fleck said. “And maybe a setback here or there and you guys just got to be willing to respond and punch back and we fought hard. I am proud of these guys.”
The Cardinals started red hot, they were 10-under-par as a team with them being 5-7 holes into the final 18. They took the lead at that point.
It was back and forth between the two teams, and with nine left to go, Ball State was down two strokes. With both teams through 15-17 holes, it was all tied up. In the end, it would go to NIU by four strokes.
Smith led in the final round with his 2-under-par 70 followed by Bellar who posted a 1-under-par 71.
Ranieri posted a 2-over-par for his last round as a Cardinal.
“I got to credit to Joey Ranieri,” Fleck said. “He's a fifth-year senior, he's been around this program for many years and the kid is just the ultimate competitor. I love the Ranieri’s, and we're gonna miss Joey dearly. I give him a lot of credit for kind of molding this group a little bit and getting them connected and understanding what we're trying to accomplish here.”
Khan shot a 5-over-par 77 followed closely by Hare with his 6-over-par 78.
“I'm gonna remember the progress that we made this spring,” Fleck said. “We had a hell of spring, we played great. We had a really challenging schedule. These guys stepped up and responded. They bought into the things that we were trying to get them to understand relative to competing hard and not giving up and fighting.”
Fleck had nothing to praise for the team who racked up a couple of wins this spring.
“We ended up having a winning record,” Fleck said. “It is just another testament to these guys with the schedule that we played this spring to finish the season with a winning head-to-head record, I think us and maybe, Kent State were the only two teams in the conference that had overall winning records. So that's a good thing for us to hang our hat on.”
Contact Elijah Poe with comments at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ElijahPoe4.