Mass. Amateur: Riley, Vana, Jr. in final

Great Barrington, MA — Following two rounds of stroke play and two days of grueling match play, the finals have been set at the 103rd Massachusetts Amateur Championship.

Beginning on Friday at 8:00 a.m., Frank Vana, Jr. (Marlborough CC) and Ryan Riley (Norton CC) will face off in a 36-hole final match at Wyantenuck Country Club to determine the 2011 champion.

The two warriors battled through the quarterfinal and semifinal matches on Thursday to earn the right to compete for The Massachusetts Cup.

For Riley this marks the first time in his career that he will play on Friday, while Vana will be making his sixth appearance in nine years.

"It is always a long road to get here and it's an honor for any of us to make it to Friday," said Vana, who delivered an exciting, come-from-behind 19-Hole semifinal victory over Dan Falcucci (Cyprian Keyes GC). "It's exciting. We show up here with the goal of making it to Friday but the job is not over until Friday is finished. You need to refocus and keep doing what you have been doing."

While Vana was forced to play 37 holes today, Riley ended his day in just 33 holes as his semifinal match against Antonio Grillo (Farm Neck GC) ended on the 15th hole with Riley earning the 4 & 3 victory.

"It never really crossed my mind coming here," said Riley about being in the finals. "The course grew on me as I played it this week. After stroke play, I felt like I had just as good of a chance as anyone."

After winning his first two rounds on Wednesday, Riley continued his title quest and built up momentum on Thursday morning when he came back from a 2 Down deficit against Dan White (Vesper CC) to win on the 18th hole. During the latter stages of the match, Riley was 1 Down with four holes to go when he sent his wedge approach from 50 yards to eight feet. He then sealed the victory on the 17th hole with an approach shot that landed a foot and a half from the hole.

"I didn't hit it as well this morning," said Riley. "I had about three bad holes but played the other holes around even or better. In match play, I try not to give holes up. If they are going to win it, I want them to do it with a birdie."

He did just that during the afternoon match against Grillo, who had beaten Riley in 2009 in the Round of 16. On this day, Riley never trailed and enjoyed a 2 Up lead through four holes courtesy of a birdie on the 2nd hole and a par on the 4th hole. Then - on the 5th hole - he recovered from a poor chip (third shot) on that 601-yard, par 5 hole by rolling in a 45-foot birdie putt to win the hole and extend his lead to 3 Up.

It would remain that way until Grillo applied some pressure with a tee shot on the 9th tee that landed inches from the hole. Riley was unflappable, however, as he - with both players on the green off the tee - rolled in a birdie putt on the 11th hole. Grillo was unable to find the bottom of the cup with his birdie attempt. Riley then made 15-foot birdie on the 12th hole to take a 3 Up lead with just six holes to go.

"To go 3 Up against a player of Tony's caliber is huge," said Riley. "I played solid coming down the stretch, so it was nice to see that my game came around when it needed it to."

While Riley was able to relax in the clubhouse, Vana was still in the midst of a battle with Falcucci. After falling behind 2 Up through seven holes, the nine-time Richard D. Haskell MGA Player of the Year began a comeback that will not soon be forgotten. It all started on the 8th hole when Vana chipped in - a bump-and-run onto the green - for birdie to win the hole and draw within one. Then, he proceeded to win the 11th and 12th holes with birdies and the 13th hole by way of an amazing eagle where he chipped in from five yards off the green to draw even with Falcucci.

It stayed that way until the 17th hole - one that Vana had bogeyed hours earlier to extend his quarterfinal match to the 18th hole. The 401-yard, par 4 hole brought the same bad tidings as an errant drive and second shot left him 36 yards short of the pin in the rough. Although he made a remarkable chip to three-and-a-half feet, he proceeded to miss the putt and lose the hole.

That set up a must-win for Vana on the 18th hole. This time, he was solid off the tee and sent his second shot to 18 feet. Falcucci applied pressure by rifling his approach - which was in the right rough - onto the green. He two putted for par and waited for Vana, who had to make the 18-foot, downhill putt to extend the match. With a gallery of fans looking on, Vana drained the putt to force extra holes.

"The Golf Gods give and the Golf Gods take," said Vana about that incredible stretch. "I missed a short one on 17 and then made a beauty on 18."

The match ended on the 19th hole when Falcucci was unable to get up and down from the heavy left rough. Vana was on the green in two and two putted for the 19-Holes win.

"I was surprised because he had been playing well all day long," said Vana of Falcucci's approach which sailed left of the green. "It was perfect example of how crazy things happen out there."

During the morning hours, it had appeared that Vana was fully under control against Bradford Tufts (Vesper CC). After all, he held a 4 Up lead with five holes to go. As it does so many times in match play, the tide turned as Tufts put on a show by making birdie on two of the next three holes and drew within one heading to the 18th tee. Foreshadowing what was to come hours later, Vana did not flinch as he found the green in two on that 349-yard, par 4 finishing hole and was able to par out for the victory.

"I felt pretty calm and under control during the morning round," said Vana. "I know that I am going to hit some bad shots, but it was unfortunate that I did it when I couldn't really afford to. I was still pretty calm [heading to 18]. It is a roller coaster, and you can't get too excited."

Riley and Vana will continue the "roller coaster" journey on Friday morning.

Quarterfinal Summaries

Dan Falcucci def. Colin Brennan, 2 Up

It was a match of momentum. Falcucci took a 3 Up lead through eight holes. On the 236-yard, par 3 2nd hole - with Falcucci 1 Down after making bogey on the 1st hole - Falcucci chipped in from the right-side rough for birdie. He then sent his approach shot on the 601-yard, par 4 5th hole to six feet and drained the putt and then sank a birdie putt from four feet off the 7th green to go 2 Up. He extended that advantage to 3 Up when Brennan made bogey on the 8th hole.

Brennan began his comeback on the 164-yard, par 3 11th by making a 26-foot birdie putt from the left side of the green. Falcucci was unable to get up-and-down from the bunker on 12 and then Brennan made a 15-foot birdie putt on the 13th hole to square the match. The turning point came on the 15th hole when Falcucci putted first and made his 18-foot birdie putt. Brennan was unable to convert on his 15 footer. The match ended on the 18th hole, when Brennan's birdie putt from the left fringe burned the left edge. Falcucci two putted for par, while Brennan missed his five-foot bogie putt.

Frank Vana, Jr. def. Bradford Tufts, 2 Up

The match was all square through four holes until Vana drew first blood with a birdie on the 5th hole. He extended the lead to as much as 4 Up through 13 holes courtesy of key pars on the 7th and 10th holes and then a birdie on the 13th hole.

Tufts' comeback began on the 14th hole when he made birdie (his approach landed inches from the hole). He then hit another rifle shot on the 16th hole to draw within two with two holes to play. Vana blocked his tee shot off the 17th hole to open the door for Tufts to win that hole with a par. On the 18th hole, both players found the green in two. Tufts approach landed on the right side (on the plateau), which left a fast downhill putt that he missed long. Tufts did not convert on that second putt; Vana rolled in his 12-foot birdie putt to close out the match.

Ryan Riley def. Dan White, 1 Up

Following a struggle on the first hole, Dan White played impressive golf through the next five holes. He made four straight pars before sinking a 20-foot, left-to-right bender for birdie to take a 2 Up lead. White gave one back to Riley on the 8th hole and then relinquished his lead after back-to-back bogies on the 10th and 11th holes.

White regained control of the match by making a great par save from the bunker on 12 and then sinking a six-foot birdie putt on the 13th hole. Riley sent his tee shot on the 14th hole into the water, and White went on to win that hole with a conceded birdie. With White holding the 1 Up advantage, Riley - with the tees set forward - hit his driver left of the fairway and then sent his wedge approach from 50 yards out to eight feet. He made that putt to square the match. Riley sealed the victory on the 17th hole with an approach shot that landed a foot and a half from the hole. White found the trees to the right off the tee and was not able to equal that score. Both players were on the green in two on the 18th hole and made par to end the match.

Antonio Grillo def. Doug Clapp, 2 & 1

After they matched each other shot-for-shot for 10 holes, Grillo made the first move when both players were short of the green on the par-3 11th hole. Clapp sent his chip over the green and was unable to get up and down for par. Grillo chipped onto the green and drained his par putt to win the hole and take a 1 Up advantage.

Clapp squared the match on the 13th hole when he took advantage of a double bogey by Grillo. However, the youngster won the next two holes with pars. The turning point came on the 15th hole when Grillo made another par - his 13th of the round - and Clapp three putted for bogey. Both players made bogey on the 17th hole. The match ended with a pair of pars on the 18th hole.

Schedule of Play

Friday, July 15, 2011Third Day of Match Play— Morning 18 Holes begin at 8:00 a.m.— Afternoon 18 Holes begin 45 minutes following the conclusion of the morning round.(In the event of a tied match, (a) the winner shall be decided immediately by a hole-by-hole playoff, and (b) the stipulated round is deemed to extend to as many holes as are required for a match to be won.)

View results for Massachusetts Amateur

ABOUT THE Massachusetts Amateur

Qualifying - 32 Holes at Stroke Play to determine 32 Qualifiers for Match Play. Entries are open to amateur golfers who have an active MGA/GHIN Handicap Index at any public, private, semi-private, municipal or non-real estate MGA member course/club not exceeding 4.4.

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