Yet Jay Seawell's squad jumped out early, taking big leads in its first three matches, and then hung on to repel the "jinx," defeating Kent State 3.5-1.5 in their Thursday quarterfinal tilt at Riviera CC.
Justin Thomas, the national freshman of the year, took out Kevin Miller, 6 and 5, while Cory Whitsett make quick work of Kyle Kmiecik, winning 5 and 4. Scott Strohmeyer then took care of the third and deciding point, but not without a fight from Taylor Pendrith. Strohmeyer was 5 up in the match through eighth holes but just 2 up after 15 holes. He then needed to make a clutch 20-foot par saving putt on the par-3 16th to halve the hole and keep Pendrith from stealing any more momentum.
When Strohmeyer made a birdie on the 17th to halve another hole, he closed out the match, 2 and 1.
"It's a lot harder as a coach [than stroke play]," said Seawell afterward. "That last point is hard. We knew that coming in, to get to three was going to be hard."
"If you like root canals, we should do this more often," joked Desimone after advancing despite neither of his two top players, Max Homa and Brandon Hagy, claiming a point. "Match Play is just a different game. We were fortunate to come out on top."
Saturday's other semifinal will have Texas, the top-ranked team in the final Golf World/Nike Golf coaches' poll entering nationals, facing Oregon, a veteran squad playing with a heavy heart.
The Longhorns had the easiest time of all the quarterfinals winners Thursday, knocking off Washington 5-0 with Jordan Spieth leading the way with a 4-and-3 victory over Ty Chambers. Collectively all five Texas golfers (Spieth, Dylan Frittelli, Toni Hakula, Cody Gribble and Julio Vegas), trailed in just two of the 82 holes played.
Conversely, the Ducks needed some late-match heroics from Eugene Wong, the Pac-12 player of the year, to defeat UCLA, 3-2. Wong was 2 down in his match with Anton Arboleda after nine holes but won the 10th. Despite hitting his tee shot into the trees on the 11th and 12th holes, he saved par on each, squaring the match on the 12th.
Arboleda retook the lead on the 14th hole, but missed a short par putt on the 15th, then hit over the green on the par-3 16th and failing to get up and down for par. Arboleda had birdie putts on the 17th and 18th holes to win them both, but couldn't convert, Wong ultimately winning 1 up
"It feels good, obviously," said Wong. "It was tough there for a while, but I knew I just had to stay focused and keep trying. And then on the 15th, you felt the momentum swing."
Oregon coach Casey Martin said that the experience his veteran squad gained playing match play at the 2010 NCAA Championship, reaching the semifinals there before losing to Oklahoma State, was key in the comeback.
He also noted that there was extra motivation for his squad to play after it learned that former head coach and current director of operations Steve Nosler was admitted into the hospital the day before the Ducks left for Riviera. "He's had some health issues but thankfully he got out of intensive care," Martin said. "The guys really want to do well for him. they've got his name written on their golf balls. We really want to bring the trophy back home for him."
UCLA's loss to Oregon came despite sophomore standout Patrick Cantlay winning his match for the Bruins against Jonathan Woo, 5 and 3. The question now is whether that was the last event the 21-year-old from Long Beach will play for the Bruins. Speculation is that he might turn pro this summer after having a wildly successful summer playing in PGA Tour events last summer and claiming low amateur honors at the Masters in April.
Cantlay has a spot in the field at the U.S. Open later this month and the British Open next month, provided he stays amateur for both events. He also has a sponsor's exemption into the Travelers Championship the week after playing at Olympic Club and is likely to receive exemptions into other PGA Tour events should he decide to make the up to the pro ranks.
NCAA SATURDAY SEMIFINAL PAIRINGS
All times PDT
Alabama vs. California
10 am--Justin Thomas vs. Max Homa
10:09--Cory Whitsett vs. Brandon Hagy
10:18--Scott Strohmeyer vs. Pace Johnson
10:27--Bobby Wyatt vs. Michael Kim
10:36--Hunter Hamrick vs. Joel Stalter
Texas vs. Oregon
10:45--Toni Hakula vs. Robbie Ziegler
10:54--Cody Gribble vs. Jonathan Woo
11:03--Dylan Frittelli vs. Daniel Miernicki
11:12--Julio Vegas vs. Andrew Vijarro
11:21--Jordan Spieth vs. Eugene Wong
Alabama df. Kent State, 3.5-1.5
Justin Thomas, Alabama df. Kevin Miller, 6 and 5
Cory Whitsett, Alabama df. vs. Kyle Kmiecik, 5 and 4
Scott Strohmeyer, Alabama, df. Taylor Pendrith, 2 and 1
Corey Conners, Kent State df. Bobby Wyatt, 4 and 2
Hunter Hamrick, Alabama halved Mackenzie Hughes
California df. San Diego State, 3-2
J.J. Spaun, SDSU df. Max Homa, 4 and 3
Colin Featherstone, SDSU, df. Brandon Hagy, 2 and 1
Pace Johnson, Cal, df. Matt Hoffenberg, 4 and 3
Michael Kim, Cal, df. Tom Berry, 3 and 1
Joel Stalter, Cal, df. Alex Kang, 2 and 1
Oregon df. UCLA, 3-2
Pontus Widegren, UCLA df. Robbie Ziegler, 2 and 1
Andrew Vijarro, Oregon df. Alex Kim, 3 and 2
Daniel Miernicki, Oregon df. Pedro Figueiredo, 2 up
Eugene Wong, Oregon df. Anton Arboleda, 1 up
Patrick Cantlay, UCLA, df. Jonathan Woo, 5 and 3
Texas df. Washington, 5-0
Toni Hakula, Texas, df. Charlie Hughes, 3 and 2
Cody Gribble, Texas, df. Trevor Simsby, 2 up
Dylan Frittelli, Texas, df. Cheng-Tsung Pan, 2 and 1
Jordan Spieth, Texas. df. Ty Chambers, 4 and 3
Julio Vegas, Texas, df.Chris Williams, 2 and 1