BETHLEHEM, Pa. -- Seniors Lauren Bernard, Kasha Scott and Bridget Wilcox stamped an emotional exclamation point on their terrific careers by turning in strong final rounds to help Bucknell hold off hard-charging Boston University and deliver the first conference championship in program history. Sophomore Meghan Garanich posted her second straight clutch 79 on Sunday, and the Bison's 930 total over 54 holes was just three clear of the Terriers at the 2014 Patriot League Championship.
Bucknell took the lead for good in the second round, bouyed by a 1-over-par 73 from Bernard. The Bison began the third and final round with a one-stroke lead over Lehigh and a 12-shot advantage over Boston University. The Mountain Hawks, the tournament hosts at Saucon Valley Country Club, quickly fell back on Sunday, and by the time the leaders made the turn Bucknell's lead was seven over Boston University and 11 on Lehigh.
The Terriers made a serious back-nine charge, closing within two stokes down the stretch. But the Bison avoided major trouble, and a par-par finish by Bernard helped them keep the lead. Wilcox was in the final group for Bucknell, and a key swing came at No. 17, where Wilcox got up and down for par, and Boston University's Kristyna Pavlickova made bogey. Pavlickova missed the green at 18 and could not get up and in for par to a tough hole location, and Wilcox putted out for a 5 as Bucknell celebrated its very first league title.
"I am so proud of our team, especially the seniors who have worked so hard and deserved to win a league championship," said head coach Kevin Jamieson. "We were not the best ball-striking team this week, but the difference in winning the championship was our course management. We really had to use a lot of strategy coming in. There were some tucked pins, and the 16th hole was a long par-4 that we could not reach. We also laid up on 17 to a front pin, and we had some big up-and-downs on those holes. Our ball-striking was pretty good and we were able to hit the proper quadrant on many of the greens, but our players really used their intelligence and course management to win the championship."
The Bison competed for 10 seasons (2003-12) as a member of the Big South Conference, and their best finish there was third in 2011. That was the rookie year for Wilcox, Scott and Bernard, who was runner-up at that Big South Championship. The Patriot League added women's golf as a championship sport in 2013, and Lehigh won the inaugural Patriot League Championship by a slim three stokes over Bucknell in Lewisburg a year ago.
Boston University joined the Patriot League in 2013-14 and came in as pre-tournament co-favorites along with Lehigh, but the Bison outplayed them both this weekend and sent their seniors out in style.
In a fitting career bookend, the seniors were also victorious at their very first collegiate tournament at the Bucknell Invitational in September 2010. This was their fourth career tournament title.
The Mountain Hawks finished third with a 939 total, followed by Navy at 1,028 and Holy Cross at 1,174.
Bernard, Wilcox and Scott finished 3-4-5 in the individual standings, and all three earned First Team All-Patriot League honors for the second year in a row.
Bernard closed with a 76 and finished with a 228 total over 54 holes. She had a stretch of three bogeys in four holes in the middle of her round on Sunday, but she was magnificent down the stretch. Bernard was even par over the last six holes, including a key six-foot birdie putt at the par-3 14th hole.
Wilcox placed fourth with a 230 composite (76-75-79) and Scott tied for fifth at 235 (79-79-77). Scott started her final round with a birdie, and her stretch of six straight pars on the back nine was critical. Scott's final-round 77 equaled her season-best score.
"Kasha was a real difference-maker for us," said Jamieson. "She had been struggling this spring, but she has been working so hard on her game and she really gave us stability."
While much will be made about the seniors' memorable finish, the Bison likely would not have won the title without the play of sophomores Garanich and Jen Lee. Garanich finished birdie-par for her second consecutive 79, her first two sub-80 rounds of the year. Lee had not played a competitive round since last year's Patriot League Championship due to a shoulder injury, but her first-round 79 was the team's fourth counting score. Garanich and Lee tied for 14th place at 246.
Bucknell was the only team in the field to count four scores in the 70s in all three rounds.
"We did not know what to expect from Jen coming back after such a long absence, but she was great all weekend and we really needed her first-round score," said Jamieson. "And then Meghan was huge for us as well. She has been one of our most improved players and it showed in this tournament."
Pavlickova and Lehigh's Crystal Lee came to the final hole of the tournament tied for the individual lead. But while Pavlickova made bogey, Lee drained a birdie putt to claim medalist honors by two strokes with a 224 total.