STILLWATER, Okla. — Arizona was one putt away from being eliminated at the NCAA women’s golf championship.
One day later, the Wildcats earned a shot at the title.
Bianca Pagdanganan delivered another clutch moment on the par-5 18th as Arizona beat top-seeded UCLA in the quarterfinals Tuesday morning. Gigi Stoll and Sandra Nordaas led the Wildcats to a victory over Stanford in the afternoon to reach the championship match against Alabama.
“We’re just keeping the momentum going,” Arizona coach Laura Ianello said.
The Wildcats have one big step remaining. Alabama is rolling, particularly its big three: Lauren Stephenson, Kristen Gillman and Cheyenne Knight were named All-Americans and then played like it by winning both matches in victories over Kent State and Southern California. Collectively, they trailed only two holes in the 99 holes they played at Karsten Creek Golf Club.
The surprise, however, was Arizona.
The Wildcats appeared to have blown their chances in the final round of stroke play on Monday, going from third to outside the top eight — until Pagdanganan made eagle on the final hole to send Arizona into a playoff against Baylor for the eighth and final spot in match play. Arizona won on the second extra hole.
In the quarterfinals against UCLA, the matches were tied at 2 when Pagdanganan hammered a mid-iron out of the rough and onto the green, setting up a two-putt birdie that Patty Tavatanakit of UCLA couldn’t match.
In the semifinals, Stoll and Nordaas got out to big leads to set the tone. Stoll beat Emily Wang of Stanford, 5 and 3. Nordaas took down Albane Valenzuela, the No. 4 amateur in the world, 6 and 4. Haley Moore lofted a tough chip to tap-in range to win and clinch victory, and the Wildcats were celebrating.
“This young woman right here got it all started,” Ianello said with Pagdanganan at her side. “I think her play has pushed the other four to be as great as she is. The thing about Bianca is not many players, when you tell them under pressure that you need them, can handle it. This kid can.”
Stanford reached the semifinal by beating Northwestern.
Arizona has two NCAA titles in women’s golf, the most recent in 2000. In the four years since the NCAA switched to match play, the No. 8 seed has never advanced out of the quarterfinals.
Alabama will be going for its second NCAA championship in six years, having won in 2012 by one shot when it was stroke play. The Crimson Tide defeated Kent State, 3-1, and then defeated Southern California, 3-1-1.
The Trojans earlier beat Duke in the quarterfinals.
Knight had a chance to win the individual title on Monday until she shot 39 on the back nine, closed with a 74 and finished three shots behind. That gave her additional determination when it shifted to team play.
“I had a hard time sleeping last night,” Knight said. “You learn from your mistakes and failures. My goal was not to let yesterday define the tournament.”