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Cisbani, Bennett reach nationals

California, here they come.

Ray Cisbani Jr. and Todd Bennett won the battle of Pasco County golfing twosomes at Thursday afternoon's sudden death playoff at World Woods in Brooksville for a berth in the ESPN National Golf Challenge.

The playoff went to the second hole before Cisbani and Bennett, a Hudson resident and Orlando Seals minor-league hockey player, pulled it out on the par-4 second, two-putting for par and ending the contest. The other county team, Jeffrey Earhart and Steve Paoletti, putted for double bogey.

The day before Cisbani promised victory. He knew it wouldn't be easy, but he was confident of the outcome. The University of South Florida student, 18, still had girlfriend Amanda Moore, the captain of Mitchell's three-time county championship girls golf team, there for support.

"She helps me with the mental attitude of my game," he said. "She keeps me calm."

It sure helped Thursday.

"It was pretty nervewracking but I knew we could do it," he said. "We knew we could win. I knew we could."

The pair already received golf bags for qualifying for the playoff after tying the team of Earhart and Paoletti in the opening stages of the two-man best ball format, in which the best score from the pair is recorded at each hole.

The ESPN National Golf Challenge has had pairs of golfers teaming up at 120 golf courses around the country over the past two months for berths in the national finals July 15 at Lost Canyons Golf Club in Simi Valley, Calif. The tourney is open to male and female golfers with USGA or other approved handicaps.

Cisbani said he knew the playoff would go to two holes at World Woods' Pine Barrens course, and it did. Both teams parred the 374-yard par-4 first. Cisbani used his driver, lob wedge, then two-putted from about 25 feet.

"The first hole was the hardest," he said. "It was hit or miss. Either you do it or you don't."

Then came the par-4, 427-yard second. Cisbani drove off the tee and hit the lob wedge, laying it up on the green. His first putt went about 25 feet, the second dropped in from about 9 feet out.

"In all honesty I thought it would only go two holes," he said. "I thought if we tied the first hole we win the second hole hands down. I thought if we didn't win it on the first hole we would definitely win the second hole."

But then Cisbani and Bennett had played this same course twice before to qualify for the finals. Next stop: California.

"Considering the pressure and everything," Cisbani said, "I thought I hit a pretty decent shot onto the green.

"This is very exciting for me. It's probably the biggest tournament I've ever played in. It's going to be a lot of fun."