Third place finish in match play marks historic milestone for Bears

The Cal men’s golf team hasn’t won an event in over a month. Since tying the team record for most tournament wins in a single season at the John A. Burns Intercollegiate the Bears have remained stuck on three regular season wins, agonizingly unable to pull off the fourth that would vault them into the record books.

Cal didn’t win this weekend’s Callaway Collegiate Match Play Championship, but the squad still found its way into the team’s record books.

With a third-place finish at the Concession Golf Club in Bradenton, Fla., the No. 9 Bears clinched a top-three finish for the fifth consecutive event, the first time in program history Cal has had such a streak. The Bears have also finished fifth or higher in each of their events on the 2011-12 season.

Cal can credit its depth for its recent success.

Freshman Keelan Kilpatrick took the role of Cal’s closer on the Mar. 18-20 tournament. As Kilpatrick went, so did the Bears. The fifth man won three of his four matches on the weekend, a testament to the team’s depth. Few other teams can match Cal’s depth in a format that requires five solid players to be successful.

“Keelan has settled our fifth spot in a very positive way,” said Cal coach Steve Desimone. “When you have a fifth man who can add something, that really rounds out a superb top five.”

From the opening round, the second-seeded Bears needed all their players to be at the top of their game. With sophomore Jöel Stalter unable to compete in the match due to travel delays and freshman Michael Kim’s foot still not 100 percent, it took a pair of close victories to pull out a 3-2 first-round win over UNC Wilmington on Sunday.  The Bears easily advanced to the tournament semifinals later that day with a 4-0-1 win over 15-seed Tennessee.

With Monday’s match against No. 3 seed Duke undecided at the end of regulation, the match went into golf’s equivalent of overtime. With each team tied at two wins apiece, Kilpatrick ended his match with Duke’s Tim Gornik “all square,” or tied. On the 19th hole, Gornik nailed a 35-foot birdie putt.

Kilpatrick’s subsequent long attempt failed, knocking the Bears out of championship contention.

The Bears secured third place the next day with a 3-2 victory over Chattanooga. With wins from Stalter, Kilpatrick and sophomore Brandon Hagy, Cal took wins from the bottom three spots in their lineup.

“I’m really disappointed,” Desimone said. “But given the circumstances and given the difficulty of the trip, I’d say we did a good job.”

The bottom of Cal’s lineup gave it the edge throughout the weekend. Hagy won all four of his matches. Kilpatrick won three besides the 19-hole heartbreaker against Duke.

“This team is very deep,” Desimone said. “It’s great to be able to lean on guys at the level they’re playing at.”