CARY, N.C. – With Sunday’s 14-under 274, the Duke Blue Devils captured the Stitch Intercollegiate tournament crown, their second consecutive title this month.
Identical to yesterday’s performance, each man in the Blue Devil lineup shot under par, a crucial key in the team’s ability to edge out ACC rivals Wake Forest and N.C. State, who went 19-under and 8-under on the day, respectively.
The six-stroke spread over Wake Forest gave the Blue Devils enough of a cushion to seal a victory in their final event before heading into this coming weekend’s ACC Tournament.
Additionally, the team’s 32-under performance through its final 36 holes proved to be a school record, topping their previous low of 29-under in the 2015 Nike Golf Collegiate Invitational. The overall score of 828 ranked second all-time on the Blue Devils' list of lowest three-round scores in terms of stroke total (while the 36-under ranks first all-time) , and Saturday's 270 (-18) now sets as the second lowest round ever for the program.
Alex Smalley led the way this weekend, finishing with a share of second, his best finish of the year. With Sunday’s four-under 68, the junior concluded his tournament at 10-under, just three strokes shy of Campbell’s Amarin Kraivixien who secured the individual title.
"I hit the ball well again today," said Smalley. "First few holes were a little nervy but once I settled in I had some good looks at birdie. Would have liked to have finished stronger but happy with how the week went and how well the team did. Wake Forest made a run today but we played well enough to where they couldn't catch us.
Obviously we have a lot of confidence going into ACCs with how we played but we can't get ahead of ourselves. We need to just keep playing how we're playing now and we'll be right up there Sunday afternoon."
Evan Katz earned his second top-5 finish and best finish as a member of the five-man lineup thus far in his freshman campaign thanks to a three-under 69 that pushed his overall score to nine-under. Despite his three bogeys on Sunday, Katz snared a pair of birdies and two eagles. His three eagles for the tournament were tied for most among the field.
"Today I did a great job of staying mentally tough after a rough start," Katz admitted. "After a couple of early bogeys, I hung tough and stayed in the moment, which allowed me to put myself in a position where a strong finish equated to a solid round. It was so much fun to be a part of my first win as a player in the lineup. It’s always nice when we get to drop an under par score, and we realized that goal the last two days."
Also capturing an eagle in his final round was Adrien Pendaries, whose 69 (-3) moved him to a share of eighth on the leaderboard. The freshman ended the weekend at eight under, garnering his third top-10 finish of the year.
"I’m very pleased with the way I hit the ball this week," said Pendaries. "My short game from around the green was also really sharp, which allowed me to really take advantage of the par 5s. Overall, this tournament was a good stepping stone for me. Three rounds under par for the first time in my college career. I’ve been playing well in qualifying and it’s nice to see that good form translate into a solid showing this weekend."
The freshmen played a vital part in the team's victory down the stretch, as Wake Forest's Eric Bae chipped in for eagle on 17 to cut Duke's lead to three strokes. On the same hole, Pendaries and Katz both converted for eagle, to be followed by a Katz birdie to close it out.
Jake Shuman had one of his best performances of the year, tallying 16 birdies en route to finishing the weekend in Cary at seven under.
The senior found the red six times on Sunday only getting hit with bogeys twice, resulting in a 68 (-4) that tied his lowest round of the season. As a result, Shuman ended with a share of 11th.
"Making 3 straight birdies from 8-10 really is what lead to my 68 today," observed Shuman. "It got close towards the middle of the back nine with Wake Forest charging, but I’m proud of how the guys played down the stretch. Having two freshmen eagle the 17th hole shows how special they are and what they can do down the stretch of a tight tournament. I’m really excited to be part of this team. I think there are a lot of similarities to last year with how we’re playing heading into the postseason. We’re excited to get to Old North State and begin the campaign to defend as ACC champs."
After opening on Friday with a four-over 76, Chandler Eaton put together consecutive under-par rounds—including a 71 (-1) in the final round—that kept him in the top 25 of the field with a share of 23rd.
"I am stoked for the team to get back-to-back victories," said Eaton. "I think we've proven to ourselves that we are really good, and I mean national championship good. I'm especially looking forward to the ACC tournament where I know we have a great opportunity to defend our title."
Eaton’s only slip-ups were a double bogey on 12 and a bogey on 18; outside of that, the sophomore carded a quartet of birdies to finish even overall.
Adam Wood capped his weekend off with a sound 72 (E) that was highlighted by an eagle on 17. Even with a bogey on 4 and another three on the back, the senior’s pair of birdies on 1 and 8 helped nullify the damage.
Senior counterpart Ben Silverman wrapped up his final round with a 79 (+7) that moved him to 10-over for the event. He would capture two birdies on Sunday, finishing tied for 55th.
Head coach Jamie Green spoke on his team's performance following the conclusion, addressing the consistency and determination his lineup played with.
“We didn’t go out setting that as a goal, that we were going to go and try and break the school record," acknowledged Green, "we just went out with the intent of everyone playing as well as they could play. We played with great resiliency and that’s something that was definitely a commonality between last tournament and this tournament."
Green continued on to the topic of mindset, something that was a key factor in the team's success this weekend, as well as in each one of its tournaments dating back to September.
"Guys really had to focus on what they had control over. That’s the most impressive part about the win, in terms of putting today into context. As you get closer to the end of an event, it becomes that much more difficult to take it a shot at a time. They did a fantastic job of staying in the moment and staying in aggressive, positive mindsets right until the end.”
When asked about what he feels has been the most encouraging part of this particular team, Green commended his entire roster and their ability to challenge each other.
"I think something that’s been really good for our program has been the depth. It might be easy to say these one or two players have been really consistent, but I think we’ve been consistently competitive through the entire lineup and I think that really helps our players stay sharp."
Coach Green, now set to lead his team into the ACC Tournament, concluded with his thoughts on where he and his team stand in terms of readying themselves to win a second straight title.
"We’ve had sights on defending that championship, but we know you can’t just show up and go through the motions, you have to do something special like we did last year and that starts with mindset, belief and preparation.”
Final Leaderboard Rankings
Final Team Results
1. Duke (828, -36)
2. Wake Forest (834, -30)
3. N.C. State (844, -20)
T4. UAB (847, -17)
T4. Campbell (847, -17)
T4. East Carolina (847, -17)
7. College of Charleston (864, E)
8. Virginia Tech (865, +1)
9. Maryland (873, +9)
10. Appalachian State (889, +25)
11. Richmond (902, +38)
12. Ohio (911, +47)
Duke will turn around this weekend and jump right into the ACC Tournament starting Friday, April 20 at the Old North State Club in New London, N.C.