Kayla Mortellaro successfully defended her Western Athletic Conference Championship but it took a marathon 22 holes Wednesday to fend off the challenge of New Mexico State’s Demi Mak.
Mortellaro played her final regulation 18 in one-over 73, while Mak was scorching the Longbow Golf Club course with a five-under 67 – the lowest round of the tournament. When Mortellaro’s par putt failed to drop on the 18th hole and she had to settle for bogey, the playoff began.
Both players parred the first three holes before Mortellaro birdied the fourth to secure her second title. A different approach to the challenging, water-lined 364-yard fourth hole put Mortellaro in position to repeat.
“I had not taken the right line (in earlier rounds),” said Mortellaro, who bogeyed the fourth during her regulation 18. “I committed to the swing, made the effort and absolutely hit it on the right line.”
That line led her to the center of the fairway and just 87 yards from the hole. She lofted her approach to within six inches and was able to virtually tap in to win.
“It was a big relief – then excitement that I managed to pull off the victory,” Mortellaro said. “Getting my 10th win was unbelievable.”
There was no catching San Jose State in the race for the team title but the Vandals did make up one stroke with their closing-round 294. SJSU won with an 877, while the Vandals were at 890 and Fresno State was third at 902.
Mortellaro said a pep talk from coach Lisa Johnson from the 18th hole to the first playoff hole helped her regain focus.
“Once I got to the first tee, I congratulated (Mak) on an awesome round,” she said. “At that point, I was ready to go. Just take it one shot at a time.
“I didn’t want to leave having had the opportunity to have a chance at winning and just blowing it.”
Johnson had high praise for the rest of the Vandals, who combined to turn in the third-best team round of the tournament.
“They handled the pressure very well,” Johnson said. “They hit great shots. They managed their games well.”
Senior Teo Poplawski concluded her collegiate career with a tie for fifth after a closing-round 71 gave her a four-over 220 for the tournament. Freshman Leilanie Kim had a 76 Wednesday to tie for 14th with a 228, while sophomore Rachel Choi had a 75 to tie for 17th at 231 and freshman Kaitlyn Oster tied for 19th after her 75 gave her a tournament total 232.