SUNRISE BEACH, Mo. — After 36 holes of play at the MVC Men's Golf Championship on Monday, only one stroke separates first place Illinois State (1-over par) and second place Southern Illinois University (2-over) in the battle for league supremacy and the automatic bid to the NCAA Regional.

Missouri State (15-over) is third and the rest of the pack is likely too far behind to contend for the title during Tuesday's final round at The Club at Porto Cima.

The Redbirds were 4-under par after the first round to take a six-stroke lead over the Salukis, but SIU rallied back with a 2-under par score in the second round to close the gap to the slimmest of margins. At one point late in the second round, SIU regained the lead and was ahead by as many as seven strokes.

"We got off to a slow start across the board, put up some big numbers early that shocked us a little bit," said SIU head coach Justin Fetcho. "We came out in the second round with an incredible look in our eyes, got it rockin' and rollin', and put ourselves in a position to win a golf tournament on Tuesday."

Saluki freshman Matthis Besard (2-under) is in second place overall and just one stroke behind Illinois State's David Rauer in the individual standings. Besard shot a 75 in the first round, but bounced back with a 67 — his best round of the spring — in a round that featured six birdies and just one bogey.

"Like most freshmen, Matt pressed a little bit early and tried to make things happen, but late in that first round he started to relax, and all of the sudden, there's when the birdies come," Fetcho said. "He hits it so straight and the course sets up well for him, because there's a premium on accuracy."

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When the team was struggling early, seniors Peyton Wilhoit (1-under) and Luke Gannon (2-over) steadied the ship by combining to go 3-under par in the first round. They are in fourth and eighth place, respectively, and still in contention for the individual title.

"Those two guys stepped up when we needed them the most," Fetcho said. "Everyone knows how good Peyton is, but Luke has been there all year for us and been maybe the most consistent player on the team."

Hunter York (8-over) and Frankie Thomas (10-over) each delivered one strong round for the Salukis today, with York carding an even par in round two and Thomas a 3-over in round one. Thomas triple-bogeyed his first hole and played even par the rest of the round.

The last and only time SIU won the MVC title was in 2016.

"We've trained all year for a moment like this and we'll do our best to rise to the occasion," Fetcho said. "We have to stay patient. We can't go out there and try to force things and make a move. We have to take the Tiger Woods approach — stay in position and stay patient, wait for an opportunity and cash in."

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