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Stanford betters Baylor again to reach semifinals

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Stanford freshman Albane Valenzuela.  - 

SUGAR GROVE, Ill. – Stanford and Baylor were locked in another tight match at the NCAA Women’s Championship.

Sound familiar?

Just like two years ago, when Stanford prevailed in a championship match that became an instant classic, the Cardinal held on for a 3-2 victory Tuesday that propelled them into the NCAA semifinals for the third consecutive year.

The decisive point was secured by future star Albane Valenzuela. The Stanford freshman took advantage of late mistakes by Baylor’s Dylan Kim, who lost three holes in a four-hole span late in the match.

“I wish I could have gotten back there to walk with her,” Baylor coach Jay Goble lamented afterward.

After all, that’s what he did Monday, when the Big 12 champion blew up on the front nine and was in danger of keeping her team out of match play. For the first time in three years, Goble walked with Kim during the round and guided her into the clubhouse, salvaging an 81 and helping secure the No. 7 seed.

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Kim was shaken up after one of the worst rounds of her career. Goble told her: “You’ve got to regroup. We have a chance to win the national championship, and we can’t do it without you.”

Tied at two points apiece, Kim couldn’t get up and down on 14, mis-hit her tee shot on 16 for another bogey and then, 1 down and running out of holes, hit her approach shot in the water on 17 to lose the match, 2 and 1.

It was a calming victory for Valenzuela, one of the most talented prospects ever to come to Stanford. The NCAA rookie has plenty of match-play experience overseas, but that didn’t ease the nerves before the quarterfinals.

“It was really good for her to get battle-tested,” Stanford coach Anne Walker said.

Stanford will now have a difficult semifinal match against red-hot Arizona State, which seems to be riding the momentum of Monica Vaughn’s surprising NCAA individual title. Coming off the second-best round of the day Monday, the Sun Devils continued to roll Tuesday, jumping all over Florida, 5-0, to reach the semifinals.

“It’s going to be really, really tough,” Walker said. “They’re very strong 1 through 5.”

On the other side of the bracket, top-seeded Northwestern survived an early scare from Kent State to win, 3-2. The Wildcats, whose campus is only about 60 miles from Rich Harvest Farms, got an early point from Sarah Cho, then rode back-nine comebacks from Kacie Komoto and Hannah Kim to advance past upstart Kent State, which had backdoored its way into the match-play bracket after posting the worst score of any team Monday.

Northwestern, which came within a shot of advancing to match play a year ago, will now face Southern Cal in the afternoon.

Said head coach Emily Fletcher: “We had a little bit of heartbreak these last few years, we didn’t play our best coming down the stretch, but to see our kids pull through today and not only get here in the fashion that we did, but to get that first win this morning, is really spectacular.”

The Trojans were tied at a point apiece with Ohio State when Robynn Ree two-putted from 60 feet for par on the final hole to win her match, then Tiffany Chan lagged her putt from a similar distance to hold on for a 1-up win. They won the match, 3-1-1.