August 10, 2019 10:31:42 PM
STARKVILLE -- The U.S. Women's Amateur is reaching its tipping point
The field that originally boasted 156 players has been whittled down to eight following the round of 32 and round of 16 Thursday.
Battling a heat index that reached over 100 degrees, Andrea Lee fought through a 23-hole marathon in the round of 16 to defeat Alexa Pano to advance. Lee, a rising senior at Stanford the No. 2 player in the Women's World Amateur Golf Rankings, led just once in the match and forced extra holes with a birdie on the 18th hole.
She will take on 16-year-old Lucy Li in the quarterfinals. Li is the No. 4 ranked player in the world and is playing her 14th USGA championship. She reached the quarterfinals at last year's U.S. Women's Amateur. Li has yet to play an entire 18 holes in match play.
Lee's Stanford teammate Albane Valenzuela, the No. 5 ranked player in the world, also made the quarterfinals Thursday. Valenzuela defeated Brynn Walker 1-up in the round of 32 before dismissing of Megan Shofill 4-and-3 in the round of 16.
"Just keep it one match at a time," she said of her strategy. "My match this morning was really, really tight -- I could have lost. This afternoon, I had it more in control. So, anything can happen at any time."
Other qualifiers include 16-year-old Caroline Canales, 15-year-old Megha Ganne and 21-year old Kenzie Wright. Canales (No. 2,064) Ganne, (No. 543) and Wright (No. 445) are the three lowest ranked players remaining.
Canales has earned a relatively easy path to the quarterfinals -- winning each of her matches at least 3-and-2.
"I played pretty steady off the tee," Canales said of her play Thursday. "Tried to keep it in the fairway for the most part and didn't really take unnecessary risks which is kind of important in match play."
Wright and Ganne have had more tedious trails to Friday. Wright earned her quarterfinals trip after knocking off Lauren Hartlage in 20 holes in the round of 32 before defeating Min A Yoon 3- and-1 in the round of 16.
Ganne survived extra holes against both Bentley Cotton and Emily Hawkins Thursday to advance.
Rounding out Friday's contingent of quarterfinalists are Aneka Seumanutafa and Gabriela Ruffels. Seumanutafa, named for LPGA legend Annika Sorenstam, was the 2019 Big Ten Freshman of the Year at Ohio State and is ranked No. 57 in the WWAG rankings.
Ruffels is a rising junior at USC and qualified for the U.S. Women's Open in 2019. She has yet to win a match by less than three holes.
Due to impending heat, play will commence at 7:15 a.m. Friday. The four winners will play in Saturday's semifinals.
Ben Portnoy reports on Mississippi State sports for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter at @bportnoy15.