SALEM, Ore. — Lee University fought until the very last hole in the NAIA National Golf Championship.
After getting off to a slow start Tuesday, the Flames fired the third-lowest round of the 72-hole event on Friday (294) and earned a well-deserved sixth-place finish in the 28-team event.
By placing sixth, the Flames will leave a mark that will never be broken, highest finish ever in the NAIA National Championship by a Lee men's golf team (1,190). "With this being our final NAIA National Tournament, I am happy that these guys could end it on such a positive note," noted coach John Maupin.
"I couldn't be more proud of this team. To finish round one in 16th place and climb all the way back up to sixth is an awesome way to finish," said Maupin. "We had very high expectations when we entered the week and after the first round it would have been easy for these guys to throw in the towel. Instead they played some great golf the last three rounds. Over the last two rounds we played as well as anyone out here and it's important for our guys to see that they can compete with anyone when they have their heads on straight."
Oklahoma City (1,148) led from start to finish in the annual event that was staged at the Creekside Golf Club. Texas Wesleyan (1,176) placed a distant second. Cal. State-San Marcos (1,181), Grand View (1,182) and Bellevue (Neb.) (1,184) finished ahead of the Flames.
In winning, Oklahoma City tallied a 291 on Friday as did Bellevue. Lee, paced by a 1-under 71 by Hunter Vest, was just three shots behind Oklahoma and Nebraska's totals.
Matt Emery had a 76 in the final round and his 294 was good enough for a 16th-place finish in the individual competition. Vest climbed all the way up to the 24th position after his 71 gave him a 296 effort. JB Eksteen and Peyton Sliger (301) tied for the 40th spot. Sliger continued his good play on Friday, posting a 73. Eksteen came in at 76.
Maupin took time to praise his golfers. "JB (Eksteen) has been such a huge part of our program the last four years and has really helped elevate the level of the program. He was very solid this week, much as he has been his whole career. I am happy for him that he could end this way.
"Matt (Emery) played fantastic golf this week. His 16th-place finish ties the best individual finish we have ever had at the National Tournament. Truthfully, Matt played well enough to be in contention for the individual medalist. You could not ask for a better 72 holes, tee to green. He had three swings over four days that truthfully kept him from winning this thing. Matt stepped up big this week though, he played like a true No. 1 player from start to finish.
"Hunter (Vest) continues to show how strong a player he is. He pulls out a top 25 finish and earned every bit of it. I know he would have like to have finished his round today a little better, because he really had it going out there, but still to shoot a final round 71 is impressive. I think him and Matt both will have an excellent shot at being named All-Americans when the time comes.
"I can't say enough about (Peyton) Sliger's performance the last three days. As a freshman to come out here and respond like he did after a tough first round is just unbelievable. He's as hard of a worker as we've had, and it paid off for him out here. He played as well as anyone out here for the last three rounds that is something he can certainly build on.
"It's been a really fun year. I think we are all a little sad that it's over. I have really enjoyed coaching this group," Maupin said in closing.
After a tough three rounds, freshman Florian Loutre showed plenty of heart in coming back with a 2-over 74 on Friday and helped push his team into the sixth position.
Sondre Ronold (283) of Oklahoma City won the medalist crown. He had a 71 on Friday and defeated Aaron Flores (285) of Lady of the Lake and Adam Loran of Cal State San-Marcos by two strokes.
Earlier in the day Lee's Tyler Smith and Zack Lawson were named NAIA Scholars.