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Strong finish gives USF men's golf Big East title

For the second year in a row, USF has taken home a Big East golf championship, with the Bulls' men's team coming through with a clutch finish to take the team title at Reunion in Kissimmee, following the women's team's championship last year.

USF freshman Chase Koepka finished second individually, one stroke behind Cincinnati's David Tepe for medalist honors. He shot a 3-under 69 on Tuesday, finishing a consistent tournament that saw him shoot 70s in the first two rounds. The Bulls found themselves in a tight pack on the back nine with four teams within three strokes of the lead, but played impeccably in the final nine holes, with four of the five golers playing bogey-free on the back nine, combining for 8-under golf to close out the win. USF finished with a four-stroke win over St. John's to earn the Big East's automatic bid to the NCAA regionals.

"These guys stepped up like I have never seen a team step up in my life," said third-year coach Chris Malloy. "It was not an easy stretch of holes, and they just made birdie after birdie and clutch par after clutch par."

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USF earns a spot in the NCAA regionals, which could be as close as Golden Eagle in Tallahassee. Six regionals take place May 16-18, with the top teams advancing to the NCAA championships at the Capital City Club's Crabapple course in Atlanta, starting May 28.

Junior Richard James had four birdies on the back nine and shot a 4-under 68, a full 10 strokes better than his opening round on Sunday. James and sophomore Trey Valentine finished tied for 11th individually, and senior Devin Hernandez shot a 69 of his own Tuesday to finish tied for 18th. Only the low four scores in each round count toward the team score, and freshman Jeffrey Meltzer, whose 71 Sunday counted toward the team score, matched Valentine's 75 on Tuesday for the fourth and clinching round.

"As loose as we tried to keep them, told them 'Hey, one shot at a time,' they knew what was at stake and how big a situation it was," Malloy said. "For them to do that, it's what you look for in recruiting as you're building a program. That's why these guys are here. It was something really special."

Three of USF's five golfers were playing in their first Big East tournament -- Malloy takes a major step forward after finishing ninth in last year's conference match; only Valentine and Hernandez had played in the event before.

Tuesday's title is just USF's fifth Big East tournament championship in its eight seasons in the conference -- men's golf this year, women's golf in 2012, men's tennis in 2009, men's soccer in 2008 and women's tennis in 2007. Softball won a regular-season title in 2008, and men's soccer won its division in 2005 and 2011.