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Winthrop finishes third at Big South women's golf championship

Winthrop couldn't match their second round effort at the Big South women's championship and finished in third-place behind Charleston Southern and Coastal Carolina. The Lady Eagles shot a final round 317 after the sparkling 295 they carded on Tuesday.

Charleston Southern, the No. 2 seed, won the team title with a Conference Championship-record 881 (294-296-291), breaking the old mark by eight shots. The Lady Buccaneers won by 23 strokes for its second Big South Women's Golf Championship in three years. The team receives the conference's automatic berth in the NCAA Regionals.

Winthrop finished third for the fifth time in coach Jodi Wendt's six seasons at the helm.

"After the first round I would have begged to finish in third," Wendt said. Her team was in sixth-place after the first day of play.

Winthrop senior Rachel Smith fired a 5-over-par 77 to lead the team. She was even through six holes. At the par-3 seventh hole her tee shot landed in pampas grass between the green and a bunker. She took a penalty stroke and double-bogey.

Smith's three-round 226 (76-73-77) was good for fifth-place overall.

One of Winthrop's highlights in the championship came in a practice round. The team was at the par-3 third hole; Smith was on the tee box as student-assistant coach Erin Sweeney illustrated that the players should aim to the right of the pin and the ball should feed back to the left.

Smith's shot was right on. The ball smacked the green and Sweeney told the team to watch the ball move to the left. They all stared at the ball as it circled the cup once, and fell in for a hole-in-one. Smith wasn't sure that it should count as an "official" ace or not, but she has it marked down as the second of her career.

When Smith's two-foot par putt sank on the 18th green on Wednesday she gave an emphatic fist pump to put an end to her college career.

"I knew this was going to be my last college round but I had to put that out of my mind and focus on today," Smith said.

Smith, out of Mansfield, Texas, walked the final hole with Wendt and the player and coach talked about the last four years. Smith is the only senior that played this season.

"Coach Wendt has opened so many doors for me," Smith said. "It's been a pleasure to play for her."

Smith and sophomore teammate Kayla Cline were named All-Conference.

Cline entered the final round in a three-way tie for second place. She slipped to a final round 82 and finished in a tie for sixth.

Cline, a two-time New Mexico state champion in high school, ran into trouble early and went double bogey-bogey-double bogey on the third, fourth and fifth holes. She managed to par the next five holes before taking a triple bogey at No. 11.

"I was a little nervous. The game didn't come natural like it did the first two days," Cline said. "I tried to force things and that led to some big numbers."

Individually, Charleston Southern's Olivia Jordan-Higgins carded a 2-under 70 for the second in the championship to win medalist honors. She shot a Conference Championship-record 1-under par 215 (70-75-70). She entered the final round in a three-way tie for second-place at 145 with Coastal Carolina's Aruka Felgueroso, last year's champion, and Cline.

Bucknell's Minjoo Lee was the 36-hole leader by one shot at 144 but she posted an 8-over 80 in the final round to finish fourth and open up the scramble for the top spot. Felgueroso finished with a 1-over 73 on Wednesday and claimed the individual runner-up with a 2-over 218 (73-72-73).

All-Conference Team

Aruka Felgueroso, Sr., Coastal Carolina

Olivia Jordan-Higgins, Sr., Charleston Southern

Jessica Alexander, Fr., Coastal Carolina

Megan Leineweber, Sr., Radford

Brittany Henderson, Fr., Coastal Carolina

Katrin Rumpf, Sr., Charleston Southern

Minjoo Lee, Soph., Bucknell

Rachel Smith, Sr., Winthrop

Kayla Cline, Soph., Winthrop

Katelyn Bensch, Fr., Charleston Southern