Blue Raider linksters put win streak on line at SBC Championships

Seek league's automatic berth into NCAA Tournament

April 19, 2008 · MT Media Relations
MUSCLE SHOALS, Ala. - Players on the Middle Tennessee men's golf team thought they had done enough to earn an at-large berth into the NCAA Regionals after losing a playoff to Louisiana-Lafayette for last year's Sun Belt Conference championship.

The Blue Raiders haven't forgotten either what it felt like to lose on the first hole of the playoff or the even greater gut-wrench of being left out when the field for the NCAA Regionals was announced the following week.

"They still remember what it felt like in the playoff last year and how much that hurt and they are determined to get back and make sure it doesn't happen again," said first-year head coach Whit Turnbow, who spent the previous five seasons as a Blue Raider assistant and was a player on Middle Tennessee's only golf team to reach the NCAA Tournament in 2000.

Middle Tennessee will get its chance to secure the program's second berth into a NCAA Tournament when the Sun Belt Conference Championships begin Monday at Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail in Muscle Shoals, Ala. The 54-hole event concludes Wednesday and the champion earns the league's automatic berth into the NCAA National Tournament.

"That's what we want, the automatic berth," said junior Chas Narramore, a two-time Sun Belt Golfer of the Month during 2007-08. "We don't want to leave anything to chance. Our motto all season has been, 'Leave No Doubt.' This is our chance to leave no doubt but it's going to be hard work because the Sun Belt is strong."

At No. 54, Middle Tennessee is the Sun Belt's highest-ranked team in the Golfstat rankings and the Blue Raiders have won five tournaments in 2007-08, including a school-record four straight entering the Sun Belt Championships.

"I can assure you our players would trade all five (tournament) wins this year to win this next one," Turnbow said. "This is their focus."

Turnbow said the preference would be to gain the league's automatic berth; however, he said the Blue Raiders have put themselves in position to earn an at-large should things not go as planned.

"Our resume speaks for itself," Turnbow said. "Our goal from the start was to put ourselves in position to get in as an at-large team so we could play loose at the Sun Belt Tournament and not have as much pressure on us and I believe we have done that.

"Our guys are playing with confidence but they realize no one is going to lay down for them. We have to play like we have the last couple of months. You learn how to win by winning and this bunch has learned how to win and they have learned how to handle the pressure of playing in the last group, playing with the lead, and playing from behind. I expect us to come out this week and put that experience to use."

One of the developing storylines this week has been the status of sophomore golfer Craig Smith - the 2007 SBC Low Medalist, Freshman of the Year, and first-team All-SBC selection. Smith is suffering from a back injury and will not play in the Sun Belt Championships. Senior Nick Bailes will replace Smith in the five-man lineup.

"It hurts to lose a player this late in the season but I am 100 percent confident Nick can go in and do what needs to be done because he has been there before," Turnbow said. "He has worked hard. We won't miss a beat as a team."

Middle Tennessee's lineup includes Narramore, Rick Cochran, Kent Bulle, Jason Millard and Bailes.

Cochran leads the Blue Raiders in stroke average at 72.67 and is playing his best golf of the season heading down the stretch. He notched his first career win at the Carter Plantation Intercollegiate and was named SBC Golfer of the Month for March. Cochran ranks sixth in the Sun Belt in stroke average.

Narramore has been named the league's Golfer of the Month twice this year and three times in his career and enters the SBC Championships ranked seventh in the league in stroke average with a 72.70 mark.

Bulle will be playing in his second SBC Championships and he has been consistent for the Blue Raider this season. The sophomore has a 73.63 stroke average and a tournament win. Millard has played in every tournament of his freshman season and brings a 74.04 average into the tournament. His highest finish is seventh. Bailes' average is 74.39 with a low of 66.

Middle Tennessee will play a practice round Sunday before beginning their title quest Monday morning in the final tee group of the day.

Follow the Blue Raiders on Twitter @MTAthletics for continued updates.