OMAHA — Two guys who played together at the start of the Nebraska Match Play Championship are the last two standing at Shadow Ridge Country Club.

Justin Jennings, who recently completed a four-year career at the University of Nebraska, and Jay Cottam, a Hebron native heading into his junior season at Nebraska-Kearney, will play Friday for the 50th Nebraska Match Play title.

Jennings and Cottam were paired together Monday and Tuesday for the 36 holes of stroke play qualifying to determine the 32-player bracket, with Cottam earning the No. 13 seed and Jennings the 22nd.

In an upset-filled tournament, the duo will face off in Friday's 36-hole final beginning at 7 a.m.

"It's pretty incredible and I'm going to soak it all in tomorrow and enjoy the experience," said said Cottam, who won the 2015 Class C state championship while playing for Thayer Central.

Jennings, who was Nebraska's top finisher at this spring's Big Ten Championships, reached the final by blitzing Lincoln's Travis Minzel, the 2004 champion, 7 and 5. Jennings won the last six holes of the match, punctuating the victory with a conceded birdie at the par-3 13th hole.

In the round of 16, Jennings downed junior golfer Trevor Kosch of Humphrey 4 and 3.

An Amarillo, Texas, native, Jennings said he struggled two weeks ago in missing the cut at the Texas Amateur. That led to some work with his instructor, Joey Wuertemberger of the Jim McClean Golf Center in Fort Worth, before returning to Lincoln to finish up his marketing degree with three summer classes.

This is Jennings' first Nebraska Golf Association event.

"I was optimistic, but no real, solid, concrete things to go on," Jennings said. "I just kind of barely got into the tournament, but found something yesterday and really hit it well today, too.

"It just kind of like, when you're working on something it's just a feeling, so when you get a feeling like that I was just riding it and just trying to continue to feel it the same way."

Cottam was never seriously threatened by Omaha's Brian Csipkes in the semifinals, leading 2-up after four holes. After Csipkes won the seventh hole to trim Cottam's lead to 1-up, the Loper answered by drilling a 4-iron to 3 feet on the 230-yard par-3 eighth and making the putt to restore his 2-up advantage.

It was another impressive showing Cottam, who has defeated some of the biggest names in Nebraska amateur golf to reach his first championship match.

Cottam knocked off 2015 champion Michael Colgate, another Husker golfer who finished his career this spring, in the round of 32. After defeating Trent Morrison in the round of 16 Wednesday afternoon, Cottam began his day Thursday by downing Andrew Sajevic of Fremont in the quarterfinals.

Sajevic, who played collegiately at both North Carolina and UNC Charlotte, won the 2013 match play championship and made the final in 2009. Sajevic is also a three-time Nebraska Amateur champion.

"Knowing those guys have been there, experienced it all, they have the upper hand when it comes to that," Cottam said. "I've just got to worry about my own game and take it one shot at a time, one hole at a time."

Jennings has yet to trail in any of his four matches while Cottam has trailed for just five holes out of the 66 he has played.

"I've gotten a little bit fortunate. I don't think I really caught anyone playing their best golf. I was playing well, they weren't playing their best, so I got a little bit lucky. Which you need to," Jennings said. "But I also just played really steady … and that makes it tough to be beat."

Reach the writer at 402-473-7436 or cbasnett@journalstar.com. On Twitter @HuskerExtraCB.


Husker basketball reporter

A Ravenna native, Chris covers the University of Nebraska men's basketball team and assists with football coverage. He spent nearly 10 years covering sports at the Kearney Hub and nearly four years at the Springfield News-Leader in Springfield, Mo.

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