CONOVER, NC – Just prior to the start of Tuesday morning's second round of the NCAA Division II South/Southeast Super Regional, Florida Southern head coach Doug Gordin stated what he thought the Moccasins needed to do on the front nine of Rock Barn Golf Club in order to make their move. This was more than just a suggestion, or prediction of what might occur. It was an emphatic statement from a coach who knew exactly what his team was capable of doing. A minus-three at the turn would put the Mocs right where they needed to be, and not only did they meet those expectations after nine holes, they continued to exceed them the way all the way through 18, and will head into Wednesday's final round tied for second place and just two shots from the lead.
The Moccasins picked up where they left off at the end of Monday's round, with Michael VanDerLaan and Jacob Penny dropping in birdies within moments of each other on No. 2 and No. 1, and from that point forward, the team score never got worse than -2. That was nothing compared to the finish though, when Michael VanDerLaan, Penny, and Christian Anderson birdied 18 in succession, and John VanDerLaan followed with a five-foot putt for eagle. After John Coultas closed things out with the last of his 16 holes of par or better, the Florida Southern scorecards added up to an eight-under-par 276, one of the five lowest NCAA Tournament rounds the Mocs have ever had in 23 years under Gordin.
Playing in Tuesday's first wave, West Florida and Florida Southern (starting on opposite ends of the course) ended their rounds in the early afternoon and went to the clubhouse holding down the top two positions. The 2nd-ranked Moccasins had closed to within two shots of the top-ranked Argonauts after starting the day 11 back and tied for fifth place. The Argos were at -1, and the Mocs were at +1. Fifth-ranked Barry finished a short while later in the second wave, and thanks to three birdies on 18, caught the Moccasins at the end to create a tie for second, while sixth-ranked Lynn dropped two spots down to fourth with a two-day total of +5.
With those four within six shots of each other at the top of the standings, no one else was closer than 17, as No. 14 Rollins and No. 18 Lincoln Memorial were tied for fifth, and No. 19 Carson-Newman stood seventh. Three other schools were within five shots of the coveted seventh-place position needed to qualify for the national finals.
As well as Barry played, however, no team could match Florida Southern. The Moccasins' 276 marked the sixth time this season they've been at -8 or better, which is two more times than last year when they won the national title. It is also the third lowest score they have ever had in a regional tournament, which dates back to 1996. The Mocs had a 275 (-9) on a par-71 course in Wilson, North Carolina in 2010, and a 278 (-10) last year in Muscle Shoals, Alabama where they could soon be headed for this year's national finals.
Florida Southern collected 18 birdies Tuesday, seven more than Monday, and also got the eagle from John VanDerLaan that was their first of the tournament and helped put the defending region champion in the lead again. The Mocs nearly doubled their birdie total on the back nine that gave them so much trouble less than 24 hours earlier, and Penny was a big reason. The freshman was +3 from 15-18 on Monday, but -3 over that same stretch of holes on Tuesday, and it resulted in a career-best 68 that his tied for 12th place overall at even-par 142.
It wasn't always easy though, and the Mocs looked like they may have been hitting a lull as they hit 6 and 7. Michael VanDerLaan had doubled-bogeyed one and bogeyed the other, but a quick conversation with Gordin seemed to provide a spark, and a birdie on 9 quickly followed. He later birdied two of his final four holes, including 18, and as the first Moccasin to finish his round, shot a 74. He followed a four-hole stretch of +4 by playing even-par over the final 11, helping the Mocs close on top of their game before celebrating Penny's career-best round right behind him.
Penny's day started with a birdie on 1, and an impressive play of No. 2 that saw him first come out of a bunker and then chip in to save par. Similar to VanDerLaan in front of him, a conversation and strategy session with Gordin on 7 led to a 33-foot putt for par that sent the Mocs' score down to -6.
Anderson also re-grouped after No. 7, a hole he bogeyed before reeling off six consecutive pars to remain at +1. He ended up with a 73, knocking two strokes off his score from Monday. His group was reduced to two players when Nova Southeastern's Martin Larrea was forced to withdraw due to injury. Anderson also worked his way safely around a couple of water hazards that seemed to trip up some of the other golfers both Monday and Tuesday, one of them a foul-playing creek with an attached pond on 13 and 14, and another on 17. Ironically, it was 17 that resulted in a hole-in-one for Anderson's playing partner, Drew Aft from Columbus State.
The top two players in the lineup, John VanDerLaan and Coultas, gave the Mocs a pair of under-par scores as they shaved nine strokes off their combined total from Monday. Coultas started with birdies on 1 and 3 before hitting the same bump most of the Moccasins did on 7. Otherwise, Coultas parred or birdied 16 of his 18 holes Tuesday after doing so 15 times Monday, and shot a one-under-par 70 that has him tied for 20th with a two-day total of 144 (+2).
As for John VanDerLaan, the eagle on 18 followed four birdies and made him one of only two golfers to play a bogey-free round. The other was Tomas Millet of Nova Southeastern. VanDerLaan's 65 though was the round of the day and so far, the tournament as the senior rose from seventh and into the lead at -7 overall. That puts him two shots ahead of Sam Broadhurst of Lincoln Memorial and Tom Forster of Carson-Newman. West Florida's Chandler Blanchet is in fourth place, three strokes behind VanDerLaan, and two others are tied for fifth.
The 18th hole wasn't his only well-placed shot, though hitting one five feet from the pin qualifies. On 11, the senior found a bunker on the right side of the green but came out of it with no problem, putting the ball less than a foot from the cup. On 16, it was his second shot that landed within point blank range of a birdie, one of his four on the day. That helped him hit six-under-par for the third time this year, equaling Coultas in that regard.
Florida Southern will be in the final wave of teams to tee off on Wednesday and is paired with West Florida and Barry. Their tee times range from 12:50 to 1:30 p.m.