The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga men's golf team saved its best round for its last at the NCAA tournament, shooting a 5-over-par 285 to finish with a three-day total of 39-over 879 at Grayhawk Golf Club in Scottsdale, Arizona.
The Mocs bounced back from a 300 on Saturday, and Sunday's score was nine strokes better than their opening round.
After tying for third in the Auburn Regional to qualify for the Division I national championship tournament and its 30-team field, the Mocs tied for 23rd with BYU.
"I'm really proud of the fight in the guys today," Blaine Woodruff, who wrapped up his first season as coach of the Mocs, said in a UTC release. "It's tough because you come out and you're pushing to be in the top 15 at the end of today and then into match play. When you're out of it, it's a little bit tricky.
"We talked about it yesterday. We still had a lot to play for and beat some really good teams. So they were pretty fired up and posted the second-lowest round of the afternoon."
Only the top 15 teams and the top nine players not on the advancing teams after 54 holes are moving on to Monday's final round of stroke play, when the individual national champion will be decided and the eight teams that will take part in match play are determined. The team title will be decided by those matches Tuesday and Wednesday.
Illinois sits atop the team leaderboard for the second straight round, shooting a 276 to move to 6-under 834. Pepperdine is three strokes behind, with Florida third at 839, followed by North Carolina (841) and Georgia Tech (842).
The next nine on the board are Stanford (850), Arizona State (851), Florida State and Vanderbilt (each at 853), Virginia (854), Auburn (856), Texas A&M (857), Alabama (861) and Georgia (864). With two teams in 15th place at 866, Ohio State and Texas Tech are set for a five-hole aggregate playoff Monday morning to decide which team plays in the fourth round.
Georgia Tech's Ross Steelman shot a 68 to stay atop the individual leaderboard and is at 9-under 201, four strokes ahead of North Carolina's Dylan Menante and Ohio State's Neal Shipley, who each shot a 67.
UTC's Braedon Wear had a hot front nine Sunday, making five birdies for a 31 on his way to a 2-under 68, the best round for a Moc in the tournament. Garrett Engle shot a 71, while Samuel Espinosa and John Houk had 73s and Paul Conroy a 75.
Engle had the best finish among UTC's five, tying for 74th at 9-over 219. Espinosa was another stroke back and tied for 81st, Conroy tied for 111th at 223 and Houk and Wear were both among those in 115th at 224.
UTC was ranked No. 135 in the nation at this time last year but expects a much higher finish after a season of progress that inlcuded a second-place finish at the Southern Conference tournament and four tourney wins, along with the regional success and the program's third-ever trip to the NCAA finals.
"It shows you how hard these guys worked," Woodruff said. "They bought in to what we were trying to do and the culture we wanted for our program. It was really special to see how they came together and to see it end here says a lot about what we're about and where we're going."
Compiled by Gene Henley. Contact him at [email protected].