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Feng retains lead; Alex falters, recovers

BEDMINSTER _ Shanshan Feng is not one bit concerned with leaderboards.

Feng, of China, like all golfers competing in the U.S. Open over the last few days at Trump National Golf Course, has plenty of opportunities to peek at the standings as she moves from hole to hole. She doesn't, however. Feng, the leader at 207 - 9-under after three rounds -  just keeps driving, chipping and putting, oblivious to the posted scores. 

“I just want to know about my score and I don’t care about the others,” she said. “I’m just competing with myself. I’ll focus on my own game and let’s see what happens.”

That unwillingness to peek has served Feng, hoping to become the first start-to-finish winner, with no ties, since Hollis Stacy in 1977, very well. She is playing exceptional golf. Over her first 54 holes, Feng carded only one bogey - on No. 10 in the second round. Her third round concluded with a three-foot putt birdie.  

Right behind Feng are Hye-Jin Choi, a 17-year-old amateur, and Amy Yang, both at 208. Sung Hyun Park is in fourth at 210. American Cristie Kerr shot a 70 in the third round and has a total of 212 and is sharing eighth place with Spain's Carlota Ciganda. The lone New Jersey player, Marina Alex of Wayne, is in a four-way tie for 14th after recording a 73.

Feng said she felt a "little bit pressure" from being in the lead. When she captured her other major, the Wegman's LPGA Championship, in 2012, she came from behind and prevailed.

"I did pretty well under the pressure and then I started to hit the ball better, closer to the hole, so I had some birdie chances," she said. "Putting didn't really work today. I just couldn't get the line and the speed together. And then, I was like OK, let's go to Plan B."

Plan B entails putting the ball closer to the hole so she doesn't have to attempt lengthy putts. Feng, the bronze medalist at the Rio Olympics, also has a Plan C and that's "when I can't even make shots and try to hit them into the hole."

Should Feng wrap up the title on Sunday, July 16, she'd be the first player from China to win the U.S. Women’s Open. China's Alice “Fumie” Jo was victorious at the 2014 U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links.

Yang, of Korea, has come close to claiming the U.S. Open in recent years. She's been in the top three a trio of times in the last six years.

"I feel like I'm doing good, you know," said Yang, who vowed to be patient.  " I made a lot of solid shots out there, gave myself a lot of opportunities and I saved really good pars out there. I'm looking forward to playing tomorrow."

Choi’s 208 is the lowest three-round total by an amateur in U.S. Women’s Open history. A victory by Choi will make her the second amateur to garner top honors at the U.S. Women’s Open. Catherine LaCoste was the first, winning the 1967 championship.

Alex endured a rocky start on Saturday, parring her first two holes before getting a double bogey and three putting for a bogey. She briefly righted herself, parring the fifth hole, then another double bogey ensued.

"It was a little crazy," Alex said. "I got off to a pretty poor start. I guess I was just nervous, to be honest. I don't know. It just all kind of hit me."

Birdies on the eighth and ninth holes put her back on track. Her second nine was steady as she had seven pars and two birdies.

"You don't realize how hard the holes can be when you are hitting it good and you are hitting the greens and everything feels great," Alex said. "You are grooving and then, when you're not, some of those are really, really difficult. There are a lot of hazards on the front nine. Most of the time, you don't notice them but then when you stray mentally, a lot of things creep into play, things you never really think about. I had to try and settle myself down and get restarted."

Feng, though, has yet to hit a rough patch.  

"Well, I think I have been doing well this week," Feng said. "Coming to this week, I didn't have any expectation at all. I just wanted to bring out my 'A' game. And then I think I did really well for the first three days and I'm going to stick to my game plan tomorrow. I just focus on my own game and let's see what happens."

***Marina Alex photos below***

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Alex impresses at U.S. Open

BEDMINSTER _ It was an extremely hectic and challenging 16 hours for Marina Alex.

Alex, a graduate of Wayne Hills High School, had completed 15 holes when first-round play at the U.S. Women's Open Championship was suspended at 8:30 p.m. on Thursday, July 13 because of darkness. She had to wait for her car and then make the short drive to where she was staying. After the 10-minute trip back, Alex ate and immediately went to bed. She awoke at 4:30 a.m. then headed back to Trump National Golf Course, where she was scheduled to finish three holes starting at 6:45. Following a 15-minute break, Alex commenced her second round.

In the midst of it all, Alex, who also endured a two-hour rain delay brought on by lightning Thursday afternoon, managed to maintain her focus and composure. The fourth-year professional shot a 70-71 to go 3 under par and is tied for 10th in the prestigious tournament. She is the highest among the Americans on the leaderboard. Angela Stanford, Nelly Korda, Stacy Lewis and Cristie Kerr are in a group tied for 14th.

"It's been a really long day," Alex said. "I've been here since about 5:15. I finished my first round OK. The conditions have been tough all day. On and off rain. The course is playing so much longer... It was just steady. I hit a ton of fairways, a lot of greens and made some good putts early in the round."

She said eating, sleeping and playing 21 holes in a tight time frame was difficult.

"The second round was only delayed 15 minutes," Alex said. "So, in the grand scheme of things, our wave really had a lot to juggle. Just to be done and in a good position, I'm really pleased."

Of course, being in contention made it all worthwhile. Alex's best career showing was sixth at the LPGA Volvik Championship in 2016. She has made the cut in 10 of 14 events this year and has for top-10 finishes.

"Just to be in this position, obviously, is incredible," Alex said. "It's here in New Jersey but to contend in a U.S. Open, regardless of where it is, is unbelievable. I'm really happy with where I put myself the last two days."

Shanshan Feng remains the leader after firing a 70 in the second round. In the first round, Feng had a 66 and is 8 strokes under par. Amy Yang, Jeongeun6 Lee and Hye-Jin Choi (138) are tied for second. 

Sleep and relaxation, no doubt, were on Alex's agenda Friday night. She will be primed and ready for her third-round tee time, which is 1:51 p.m.

Her second round featured two birdies. One of Alex's birdies came on the 514-yard 18th hole after she hit her drive into the rough on the left. She then used a hybrid. Her 8-iron enabled her to get "pretty tight into the flag" and she sank the short putt, ending what she termed "a chaotic 24 hours."

Despite the poor weather conditions, Alex received a good amount of support. Fans shouted "Go, Jersey!" and "Go, Wayne!" as she traversed the course in her home state.

"It's cool. It really is," Alex said of the attention. "It's never going to happen again for me. I've got to soak it in."

She mentioned the pressure of playing close to home. Alex seems determined to make the most of her situation. At the 2015 U.S. Open in Lancaster, Pa., Alex opened with a 66 and shared the lead with Karrie Webb but wound up tied for 20th.

"I really want to represent my family, myself, my state," she said. "Not many people from New Jersey are out on tour playing professional golf. Just that in itself. There's a lot of people backing me which is awesome. Obviously, everything going on... the fact that we're at Trump (National Golf Club)... All of that element added to it. For all of us, it's been a more high-keyed U.S. Open than we've had in the past."

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Feng's 66 leads U.S. Open

BEDMINSTER _ Shanshan Feng's black and white cow print shorts, pants and outfits are representative of her personality and set her apart from the other golfers on the LPGA Tour.

Feng, however, doesn't need to draw attention to herself with her unique choice of clothing. Her finely tuned golf skills make people take notice.

Many eyes were on her during the first round of the U.S. Women's Open Championship, which commenced on Thursday, July 13 at Trump National Golf Club. Despite playing in a tournament in China last week and returning to the U.S. on Monday, Feng got off to a fast start, carding three birdies over her first four holes on the way to shooting a 66.

Amy Yang was 5-under, right behind Feng. So Yeon Ru, Lydia Ko, Carlota Ciganda and Gaby Lopez fired 68s and were tied for third. Eight players, including Americans Megan Khang, Cristie Kerr, Rachel Heck and Nelly Korda, shared seventh place.

"I started the round very great," Feng said. "I mean I had three birdies in the first four holes and, after that, I felt so comfortable about everything. My ballstriking has been pretty good but I had kind of been struggling about my putting so I was happy that I made a little adjustment on my putting with my coach, Gary Gilchrist, on Tuesday. I think that's really been helping because I was rolling the ball very nicely on the greens and I made a lot of birdies."

Overall, Feng, who began on the 10th tee, had six birdies. Most notably, she had no bogeys and a problem-free round. It pleased Feng to be paired with Korea's Inbee Park and New Zealand's Lydia Ko. All three were medal winners at the Olympics in Rio last summer.

"I was very, very happy and excited about today and tomorrow," Feng said. "It's the first time after Rio. I was really looking forward to it. Inbee and Lydia are great players and very nice on the course."

Feng got her first birdie on her second hole, No. 11, sinking a 20-foot putt. On the 12th hole, she dropped a six-foot putt. She carded birdies on the 17th and 18th holes, too, putting herself within three feet and eight feet of the flag with on-target iron shots.

Her stellar round came just two weeks after she missed the cut at the KPMG Women's PGA Championship after posting scores of 74 and 77. Gilchrist believes Feng benefits from her ability to wipe out subpar showings.

"I'm a person who likes to be happy all the time," said Feng, owner of seven career wins, one of them a major. "Golf is just a part of our lives. It's not everything. I struggled that time... I would say we're human beings so I'm not asking myself to play perfectly every week. I think I'll allow myself to make mistakes."

Her cow print clothing, which enables people to recognize her, has become what she calls her "signature."

"I like wearing the cow pants because I stand out on the course and people can spot me from like really far away," Feng noted. "People support me with the cow pants so maybe that makes me feel more excited then I play better."

Feng took a low-key approach to the Open and was rewarded with her first round under 70. Upon returning from Weihai, China, Feng rested and played nine-hole practice rounds.

Yang displayed a steady game as well, ending with seven birdies and two bogeys.

"I think that maybe it is most important to be patient out there," Yang said. "I know it was going to be tough and things may not go the way you think."

They didn't go well on the fifth hole when she three-putted for a bogey. On the ninth hole, she found herself underneath a tree and had to punch out. After three more shots, she penciled in her second bogey.

One of the highlights of Yang's round was a 30-foot putt on No. 14, a par 3.

Ko relished playing with Feng, whose high-level game motivated her.

"Shanshan is one of the most consistent players on tour," Ko said. "Her swing, her putting. Everything. There's not a lot that can go wrong with it. When you are that type of player, always giving yourself as many opportunities as you can. When I was playing with her, every birdie opportunity, she pretty much made 99 percent of them.

"That is why she was able to play so well. It's great to be able to play alongside her so that I can feed off some of her holes."

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Pequannock primed for state tourney

PARSIPPANY _ Each summer, Pequannock sets its sights on the Little League State Tournament and often breezes through district and section play.

In 2015 and 2016, however, Pequannock was denied.

A 2-1 victory over Hanover in the Section 1 final on Friday, July 7 vaulted Pequannock back to its desired destination for the first time since 2014.

Pequannock opens play in the state tournament tonight, July 13, versus Swedesboro-Woolwich at 6 p.m. at Pucinsky-Ward Field in Wallington. The 8 p.m. game matches defending East Region champion Robbinsville and Wallington.

"Our girls are definitely ready to go," Pequannock manager John Banya said. "They're confident. They're excited to get the game in and get going."

Nikki Klimek, who struck out six over six innings in the title game against Hanover, returns to the circle. The 11-year-old right-hander allowed just one run in the district tournament. Klimek has received exceptional backing. Pequannock amassed 37 runs in three district games.

Banya had nothing but praise for the always reliable and effective Klimek, whose older sister, Carly, was a three-sport standout in high school. The younger Klimek, no surprise, works under the tutelage of Pequannock High School coach Maryann Goodwin.

"The pitching has been phenomenal," Banya said. "Nikki has pitched very well. She's young but she's doing great. Nikki is one of our leaders. She keeps the girls in the game."

Offense, obviously, is a strength with hits and runs coming from a variety of sources. In last Friday's sectional final, Banya called on Kailyn Gaffey to pinch hit and she came through with a one-out, two-run single in the fourth inning.

"Kailyn has been an asset off the bench and has come up with some big hits," said Banya. "That was one of them."

The runs were set up by back-to-back singles by Danielle Cannizzaro and Sara Tobin. Brielle Rotter followed with a sacrifice bunt.

Rotter is the catcher while Cannizzaro anchors the infield as shortstop. The third baseman is Tobin. Megan Chorba and Christina Banya play first and second base, respectively. Faith Tucker, McKenzie Minervini and Emily Fricker start in outfield for Pequannock, which last claimed the state crown in 2009. The 2006 squad went all the way to the World Series and was runnerup.

Emma Drury, Colleen Reindeau, Taylor Denn and Leah Knighton also have contributed to Pequannock's success.

The state tournament continues tomorrow, Friday, July 14, with a winners' bracket game and a losers' bracket game.

***PHOTO GALLERY BELOW***

Confident Lang hoping to repeat at U.S. Open

BEDMINSTER _ The fans would like nothing more than for Brittany Lang to be clutching the trophy once again when the 2017 U.S. Women's Open Championship concludes.

With nearly every step Lang has taken on the Old Course at Trump National, someone wishes the defending champion well and mentions the prospect of a repeat.

"I think on the first tee I will be a little bit nervous but it's been cool," said the 31-year-old Lang. "It's been special walking down the fairways and having people say 'Let's do it again, Brittany.' It's really special. The fans have made me feel that way. I think it will be pretty similar (to last year). I definitely have a lot of confidence."

Not only did Lang boost her confidence, she gained respect by capturing her first major in a three-hole playoff against Anna Nordqvist at CordeValle Golf Clubin San Martin, Calif. The victory was the second of her career.

"People take you more seriously being a major champion," she said during a press conference on Wednesday, July 12. "It's one thing to win an LPGA tournament or professional tournament but it's another thing to be called a major champion... The one thing it does is give you confidence even if you aren't having good finishes. You know when you get in a situation like that you can get it done and handle the pressure. That's a positive thing as a professional. You know you can get it done when it matters."

Much is at stake this over the next four days. The purse this year is $5 million, $500,000 more than in 2016. Lang, of McKinney, Tex., received $810,000 for topping the field last summer.

Claiming back-to-back Open titles would bring much prestige. Since 1991, only two players - Annika Sorenstam and Karrie Webb - have achieved the feat.

Lang had a four-round total of 282, including two 68s, at CordeValle. She's had a rough go of it in 2017, missing the cut in two of the last three tournaments. Her best finish this year was 13th at the Volunteers of America Texas Shootout in late April. Still, Lang feels she is playing well and will contend.

"I've been hitting the ball so, so well for the last few months and really haven't had any great finishes," Lang said. "It's been a little frustrating. I'm going to try and stay patient. I always seem to play well at U.S. Opens. If you are hitting the ball well, and I'm hitting it long right now, you should have a good chance at the U.S. Open. I will be nervous and excited on the first tee tomorrow."

Lang is paired with In Gee Chun and amateur Eun Jeong Seong, both of Korea, in the opening round on Thursday, July 13. They'll start out on the 10th hole at 7:40 a.m.

Cristie Kerr, the 2007 U.S. Women's Open champion, noted that the 6,732-yard course is long and "has plenty of rough." She considered the greens fast and "massive."

"It's going to be a mental grind out there," Kerr said. "You're going to have to manage yourself in between shots because it's very demanding on every shot, especially the up and down around the greens."

Kerr enters the Open following a fifth-place finish at the Thornberry Creek LPGA Classic. Five times this year, she was in the top seven and topped the field at the LOTTE Championship in April.

***Please note: Photo is courtesy of www.USGA.org.

 

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Morris All-Stars have one last chance to shine

MONTVILLE _ When Montville pitcher Jordan Strickland suffered a severe ankle sprain in the second game of the season, Kristie Monaco was called upon to take over in the circle and didn't object.

As it turned out, Strickland never returned and Monaco, an outfielder, kept firing pitches. That's why Mustangs coach John Immediato considered Monaco, a four-year starter, the "backbone of the team."

The adaptable and versatile Monaco made her exit from softball on Tuesday, June 13, the date of the Morris County Senior Softball All-Star Game. Monaco, headed to Seton Hall University, will not play in college so the all-star game at Municipal Fields was her finale.

"I'm done. This is it," said Monaco, a member of the Gold Team which triumphed 5-1 over the Blue Team. "I'm a little sad. I guess I really wish it would never end but, at some point, it has to."

Monaco bid farewell to the sport she has played since she was 8 years old by going 1 for 2. She was not called upon to pitch but that was OK.

"I had a nice time tonight," Monaco said. "The game was fun and I got to meet players from other teams. Everyone was so nice and welcoming. This was a good ending. I got a hit, made some plays in the outfield and met new people."

Although Monaco seems fine with her "retirement," Immediato has a large hole to fill. Not only did Monaco compile an 11-7 pitching record, she batted .450.

"Kristie took on all of the pitching duties after Jordan got hurt," he said. "She battled little injuries of her own, including an issue with her shoulder, but gave it all she had."

Whippany Park's Emily Sanchelli, on the Blue Team, also has opted not to don a uniform in college.

In Sanchelli's family, softball has been at the forefront. Her aunt, Karen, earned All-America honors at the University of South Carolina and represented the United States several times in international competition after graduating from Whippany Park High School. Her father, Frank, brother Frankie and sister Gabby played, too, as did several of her cousins. One of her uncles was involved with softball, too, as a coach.

"My family is really into softball," said Sanchelli, whose next stop is Kean. "I'm definitely going to miss it. I liked coming out after school to be with the team. I love the competition."

Sanchelli's high school career began at Mount St. Dominic. She had to sit out part of her sophomore year after transferring back to Whippany Park then started at third base for two seasons.

She made perhaps the most heads-up play of the Morris County Senior All-Star Game, tagging a runner caught in a rundown between second and third base before throwing to first to nab another overly aggressive runner. Sanchelli added a hit in the seventh inning.

"It was really interesting to play with people from different schools," Sanchelli said. "I'm happy I was chosen. It's nice to end it like this."

For Parsippany's Sarah Waffenfeld, the game afforded her another chance to catch for teammate Caitlin Brennan. Waffenfeld and Brennan were on the Blue Team, which scored its lone run on an error.

"It's so exciting," Waffenfeld said. "The seniors are getting mentioned. I might play club softball at Montclair State. I'm not sure. I've played since T-Ball. I knew stopping would be hard and it is."

ROSTERS

GOLD TEAM

Chatham: Bonnie Kennedy, Melissa Landry; Hanover Park: Nikkiann Giaimo, Maddie McLaughlin; Madison: Kelly Edwards; Mendham: Kaylee Allatta; Montville: Kristie Monaco; Morris Catholic: Elizabeth Rado; Morris Knolls: Melissa Ackerman, Carly Shaw; Morris Tech: Danielle Fralley; Morristown-Beard: Bay Naples; Mount Olive: Elise Enslin, Alyssa Mathura; Randolph: Kristen Lindquist.

BLUE TEAM

Boonton: Sarah Reed; Butler: Kellie Faber, Erin McFall; Jefferson: Isabel Seise, Nicole Vassallo; Morristown: Ada Patterson; Parsippany: Caitlin Brennan, Sarah Waffenfeld; Parsippany Hills: Kaila Rosamilia; Pequannock: Jonnalyn McClain, Hannah Brizek; Roxbury: Kayla Corrente; Villa Walsh: Christina Romagnoli; West Morris: Sydney Fehnel; Whippany Park: Emily Sanchelli.

Coaching suits Mendham's Messinger

Aly Messinger experienced great thrills in 2014 and 2016 when North Carolina captured NCAA Division I Women's Lacrosse Championships.

The second time around, Messinger, the former Mendham High School star, was named the Most Outstanding Player. One year later, Messinger is on longer on the turf but is serving as an assistant coach for Navy. 

"It's been awesome," Messinger said of coaching. "It's definitely different. It's a transition. There's a wonderful environment at Navy. I'm really enjoying it. I love the atmosphere and the lifestyle. I get to spread the sport I've loved and played for many years."

Messinger undoubtedly felt a little odd when the Midshipmen ousted second-seeded North Carolina from the 2017 NCAA Tournament with a 16-14 victory in the quarterfinal round. That victory earned Navy its first appearance in the NCAA semifinals.

Another highlight of Navy's season was its upset of Loyola to claim the Patriot League Championship. Prior to that, Loyola was 41-0 against Patriot League opponents.

There's no doubt Messinger, who had 149 goals and 81 assists as a four-year starter at North Carolina has had a major impact on Navy's offense in her first season on the sideline.

"The challenge of coaching is to get players to grow and develop," she said. "That's the best part of the job."

At first, Messinger, an exercise and sport science major with a concentration in sports marketing, wasn't sure if she wanted to coach. When the offer came from Navy head coach Cindy Timchal, Messinger decided to give it a try.

"I knew I'd regret it if I didn't coach," Messinger said. "The lacrosse world is small and there were a few openings. Cindy reached out to me and I went from there. It was the right choice. It's not time for me to leave the sport yet."

Messinger doesn't hesitate to join in at practices. Doing so keeps her connected and enables her to offer hands-on instruction.

"I play here and there," she said. "That's the nice thing about it. I fiddle with my stick and shoot around."

After the win over Loyola, Messinger was elated.

"Loyola had just won the conference so winning the tournament was super exciting," Messinger said. "It was a big, big win."

Kim edges out Nordqvist at ShopRite Classic

GALLOWAY _ It took a fall down the stairs for South Korea's In-Kyung Kim to rise to the top of the leaderboard and notch her fifth victory on the LPGA Tour.

In the offseason, several months after winning the Reignwood Classic last September, Kim fell and bruised her tailbone. The injury caused her to sit out several months. She returned to the tour only two and a half months ago.

On Sunday, June 4, Kim fired a 69 in the third and final round of the ShopRite Classic on the Bay Course at the Seaview Hotel and Golf Club and prevailed by two shots over defending champion Anna Nordqvist, who was seeking a threepeat, and earned $225,000. Americans Michelle Wie and Jacqui Concolino and Jenny Shin and Jeong Eun Lee finished tied for third.

"I still can't believe it," Kim said. "There were a lot of photos after the round that I didn't know (about). I feel pleased with how I played today. It was really tricky and a challenge out there but I gave my best. It's nice to win the tournament with everything that I gave."

Her play on the par 5s, she said, was strong in the first two rounds when she shot a 66 and 67, respectively. The par 3s were Kim's strong suit on Sunday. Kim felt that she "scrambled very well." 

It was perhaps the bruised tailbone that enabled the 28-year-old Kim, in her 11th year as a professional, to pick up the win in her sixth event of 2017. While out of action, Kim, active with Special Olympics, worked with her physiotherapist on her upper body strength.

“I'm really happy to come back stronger than I was before,” she said. “I couldn't have done it without all my trainer's support.”

The wind, which picked up by mid-afternoon, became an issue for many of the golfers. Kim and her playing partners, Paula Creamer and Moriya Jutanugarn, were put on the clock after their tee shots on the 11th hole after it was deemed they were playing too slowly. The golfers were taking extra time to assess their shots and choose the proper clubs.

"It was very difficult," said Kim, who planned to celebrate by dancing and ordering room service. "We were on the time all the time and trying to help each other a little bit here and there to tee off first and play ready golf. It was harder... It was just another day. We just had to play a little faster."

Paula Creamer, tied with Kim for the lead at 8-under after the second round, saw her chances slip away after carding bogeys on the 11th and 12th holes. Creamer, who also bogeyed No. 14, ended the Classic in seven place.

"You can't shoot over par on Sunday. That's for sure," Creamer said. "We were on the clock for four holes. That's just not going to cut it... We just couldn't get a rhythm, especially with some of these pins and with the wind and everything. It's all happening so fast and you kind of can't regroup."

Nordqvist, hoping to join Betsy King and Annika Sorenstam as the only players to take the ShopRite Classic three times, was a bit disappointed that she didn't get to hoist the crystal trophy yet was elated to be in contention.

"Having the honor to defend back to back is quite amazing," Nordqvist said. "I've had a lot of supporters cheering me on this week. I really appreciate everyone's support. There was pressure coming into it but it was fun. I'm trying to embrace it. I love this golf course. I love hitting the shots." 

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Chung settling in on LPGA Tour

GALLOWAY _ Karen Chung began her day with "a little tap," stringing together three shots for a birdie before 8 a.m.

Chung, playing in her first ShopRite LPGA Classic, rose early for her tee time on Saturday, June 3 and quickly deposited her ball into the cup.

The Livingston native's second shot on the 351-yard, par-4 first hole landed less than a foot from the flagstick, putting her in a perfect position for a birdie. It was certainly an encouraging, feel-good moment and Chung figured she'd ride it for the rest of her round.

Steady for the remainder of the front nine, Chung struggled over the last nine and had a 74, which was three over par on the 6,217-yard Bay Course at the Stockton Seaview Hotel and Golf Club. Chung, who posted a 71 on Friday, was immediately concerned about making the cut. As it turned out, her two-day total of 145 enabled her to survive.

Paula Creamer and In-Kyung Kim are 9 under and tied for the lead.Two-time defending champion Anna Nordqvist is 7 under and tied for third.

"It felt good. It was great," said Chung, an LPGA Tour rookie competing in her ninth tournament, of the birdie.

She was even over 10 holes then her game unraveled, mainly on the greens. Chung, paired with Jennifer Ha and Gaby Lopez, bogeyed five of her last eight holes. She birdied the 12th and 15th holes.

"My putting was kind of off," Chung said. "It wasn't very good yesterday, either. I was trying to get comfortable on the greens and adjust to them. I didn't read them very well. I just couldn't get it together. My shots were loose and I couldn't get up and down."

Being tied for 68th isn't what Chung, a recent graduate of USC whose degree is in communications, desired. Still, the chance to vie for part for part of the $1.5 million dollar purse is appealing. She's enjoying life on the tour after qualifying for it last December in Daytona Beach, Fla.

"Playing in New Jersey is awesome," Chung said. "It's my home state. I love playing here. The results are not what I wanted. It's fun playing on the tour. I'm out here with many of my friends from junior golf. I like being on the same stage as them."

Chung, a member of two Junior Solheim Cup Teams, likes the Bay Course, which she played as a junior golfer. However, she didn't remember much about it.

"The course is nice. It was ages ago when I played here," she said. "The layout is good. It's so challenging. It gives professionals a good run."

A handful of friends and family came out to watch Chung play. Among those in the mini gallery was her former piano teacher Eunmi Kim, a Bergen County resident.

"Karen is a dream chaser," Kim said. "She wanted to play golf and she made it come true. I'm so proud of her. I cry every time I see her. I can't believe it."

Kim noted that Chung was, and still is, an immensely talented musician. Chung played cello and piano and was accepted to the pre-college program at the Manhattan School of Music.

"She's so good at everything," Kim noted. "Karen learns quickly. She did very well with music then wanted to play golf. I knew she'd go far with whatever she did. She's like family to me."

Chung is the second New Jersey woman on the LPGA Tour. The other is Wayne's Marina Alex, a standout at Vanderbilt not very long ago. Chung cannot fathom that she has joined the ranks of pros, including one of her idols, Juli Inkster.

"It's awesome to see Juli at tournaments," Chung said. "I haven't met her yet. I'm too shy, too scared."

There's nothing timid, though, about her golf game, one she hopes will bring her success for many years to come.

***PHOTO GALLERY BELOW***

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Hornets, Falcons go distance, fall short

MADISON _ Hanover Park and Jefferson put in marathon efforts in bids to extend their seasons but fell short in sectional semifinals.

The Hornets' season ended with a 5-2 setback to Hackettstown in 10 innings in the North Jersey Section 2, Group II final on Wednesday, May 31. The Falcons were edged 5-4 by Ramsey in nine innings in the North Jersey Section 1, Group II title game on Tuesday, May 30.

"It was nice to go out like that," Hanover Park coach Jamie Galioto said. "It was a nice year. I don't mind losing a 10-inning game. We played hard. We played well. Hackettstown just capitalized on their opportunities more than we did."

The Tigers snapped a 2-2 deadlock in the top of the 10th inning when the international tiebreaker went into effect. Molly O'Brien, Hackettstown's first batter, hit an inside-the-park home run to put the Tigers up, 4-2. The visitors scored a third run as well on Alivia Duran's single.

Hanover Park (23-4) knotted the score, 2-2, in the bottom of the sixth. Amy Petrovich hit a line-drive single to right field. Nicole Miller also singled to right. Dara DiMaiolo, who went 2 for 4, then knocked in a run with a base hit to center field. An error enabled the second run to score.

Nicole Carter, the winning pitcher, doubled to left center field in the first inning to drive in a run and stake Hackettstown to a 1-0 lead. The Tigers made it 2-0 in the second on Cheyenne Scudder's leadoff triple and a groundout.

Carter went all 10 innings for Hackettstown, striking out seven, walking three and surrendering six hits.

"It was a really great game," Galioto said. "By the time both pitchers got to the 10th inning, they had thrown a lot of pitches. They were just going on their guts."

The Falcons (21-8) tangled with top-seeded Ramsey and its perfect record in a game that had a dramatic conclusion. Ryan Henry homered to left field in the lower half of the ninth inning to end a 4-4 deadlock for the Rams, now 28-0.

Katie DeBell put Jefferson on top quickly, plating a pair of runs with a single in the first inning. Ramsey came within one run, 2-1, on Maddie Taradash's homer in the fourth. The Rams benefited from the long ball again in the fifth as Victoria Sebastian belted a two-run homer to put the Rams in front, 3-2. Ramsey made it 4-2 in the same inning on Henry's RBI double.

The Falcons tacked on two runs in the seventh inning for 4-4. Chelsea Bitondo stroked an RBI base hit and there was a bases-loaded walk.  

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